All Politics are Local: Interview with Shelley Mayer

In this column I will be interviewing different politicians that represent Rye Brook. I will be asking each politician many of the same questions. I hope that these  interviews will help you learn about the people who represent us in government. For this interview, I spoke with Shelley Mayer, State Senator for the 37th District of New York.

Prior to being elected State Senator for the 37th District, Mayer was a member of the New York State Senate, beginning in 2012. Mayer previously served as a Senior Advisor in the office of New York Attorney General Bob Abrams. Mayer resides in Yonkers, her hometown. Mayer was elected to the Senate in 2013 after winning a special election for the seat previously occupied by current Westchester County Executive George Latimer. Below are selected  excerpts from our 30 minute interview: 

What or who inspired you to get involved with politics? 

“My father ran for office and I grew up really understanding the value of speaking with your own voice and standing up for what you think and believing in this system of elections and not being deterred whether you won or lost. I mean, obviously you hope to win, he didn’t win, but I learned from him and I would say that he inspired me. My mother also inspired me because she was a person who grew up very poor and did not have an education, but she was the most empathetic, people-interested person I’ve ever met and she really encouraged me to listen to people. I think that’s been a big part of my success.”

What was your career before going into politics?

“There is a funny line between government and politics. I was always involved in politics, I was always involved in community activity that was political because I am a believer in American democracy, really it is in my core. I became a lawyer and I started bringing cases on behalf of people who had lost their jobs, and then I went to work in the Attorney General’s office. I spent twelve years in the Attorney General’s office doing government work, but I also did politics on my own time and I’ve always been engaged in both politics and government.”

What is your favorite part of the job?

“Really being able to help people, whether it’s helping them on unemployment claims, for example, I was able to help the people who lost their jobs after the Doral Arrowwood hotel in Rye Brook closed, I helped them get money they were owed, 2.7 million dollars. Also, I was able to help schools. All the schools in New York were able to get the money they deserved, which took fifteen years to get.”

What Surprised You The Most About The Job?

“Well I was in the Assembly before I was in the Senate, so I’ve been around Albany legislative politics for a long time. I was the counsel to the Senate Democrats for a while as well. At the very beginning I was surprised that partisanship was really a bar to considering good ideas and I represented the Attorney General’s legislative program and I asked the people in charge (the Republicans) how come they never considered the AG’s bills. They said we just do not work with the other side. That was my introduction that they don’t just do it on the merits. That was a surprise to me a long time ago and I’ve learned along the way and I’ve learned to make my way around the obstacles.”

My understanding as Chair of the Education Committee in the Senate your intervention was instrumental in helping Ridge Street School reopen, can you elaborate on this experience? 

“Well it was very difficult for everyone, all the students particularly.I have a very good relationship with the Commissioner of Education, Dr. Betty Rosa, who has oversight over all the physical parts about schools, so when there seemed to be a real conflict and miscommunication between the District and the State Education Department I went directly to Dr. Rosa and pushed them [the Education Department] to put a lot of resources into resolving the conflicts with the school district, with the board, with the prior superintendent, with the current superintendent and even though it took two and a half weeks, I worked on it every day to try to push it ahead and get a resolution because I knew kids weren’t in school. I tried to get away from the personalities and focus on getting that school reopened and I’m glad we were able to help in that regard.”

Advice For Future Public Servants  

“Get involved, I had lots of people working on my campaign when I ran in the special election for George Latimer’s seat in 2018, many, many young people couldn’t vote, but they cared about gun violence, which we couldn’t do anything about until the Democrats became the Majority in the Senate. Young people helped lead to the Democrats’ control in the Senate. I think there is so much opportunity for young people to care about something, get involved whatever it may be, the food pantry in their neighborhood, a club in their school, running for school president, or working on someone’s campaign. I say jump in, have the confidence not to second guess yourself, and take a leap.”

Anything else you would like to share with the readers at Blind Brook?

“I think people should know that myself and Steve Otis, your Assembly member, we’re both very dogged, serious legislators, we care about trying to take the problems we hear about and make a difference to change the result. He and I work every day together like we did for the Ridge Street School. I work with my colleagues to sort of force change and that’s what you have to do, I’m never rude, but I’m strong and opinionated and that’s what you have to do.”