State Legislative Forum: Hudson Valley

April 27, 2021  
5:30PM - 6:30PM
Sponsored By AARP New York
Event Description

With the state budget behind us, lawmakers are set to act on their remaining priorities for the legislative session. These regional forums offer a chance to hear from legislators on their top policy priorities. We’ll touch on topics such as the ongoing response to COVID-19, curbing high prescription drug costs, retirement security, long term care reform, ways to make housing more affordable for an older population, and other pressing topics.

Elijah Reichlin-Melnick
New York State Senator, District 38
State Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick represents the 38th State Senate district, which includes the towns of Clarkstown, Orangetown, and Ramapo in Rockland County and the town of Ossining in Westchester County. He was elected in November, 2020 and is currently serving his first term. He chairs the Senate Committee on Contracts & Procurement. Senator Reichlin-Melnick is a graduate of Nyack High School, Cornell University (B.A. double major in history and government) and Rutgers University (Master’s Degree in City & Regional Planning). Prior to his election to the State Senate he was twice elected as a village trustee in the Village of Nyack and also served on the staff of several elected officials including State Senator James Skoufis (39th District), former Members of Congress Eliot Engel & Nita Lowey, and former Orangetown Town Supervisor Andy Stewart. After receiving his Master’s Degree, Senator Reichlin-Melnick spent three years as a Senior Research Planner at Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, a Newburgh-based non-profit focused on regional planning and local government issues throughout the Hudson Valley. He began his career as an elementary school teacher at an inner city public school in New Haven, CT where he became committed to ensuring that all students can get a great education, no matter where they live. Senator Reichlin-Melnick’s priorities are to ensure that New York state government works for middle class and working families and protects our quality of life by ensuring safe neighborhoods, affordable healthcare, clean air and water, good roads and mass transit, and well-funded education for our kids. In 2021, he will be focused on addressing the public health and economic challenges caused by the COVID pandemic. Outside of work, Senator Reichlin-Melnick has been an active member of the Nyack Chapter of the NAACP for the past decade. He formerly served as Chair of the Nyack Democratic Committee and Vice-President of Rockland County Young Democrats. He is an avid hiker and environmentalist who enjoys taking pictures of the beautiful places in the 38th District and throughout the Hudson Valley. Born and raised in Rockland County, he has lived in the 38th District for nearly his whole life and currently resides in Nyack with his wife Shelley.
Jonathan Jacobson
New York State Assembly Member, District 104
Jonathan Jacobson was elected to the New York State Assembly on November 6, 2018, to fill the seat of the late Frank Skartados, who had an untimely death in April 2018. At the time of his election, Jonathan was a Newburgh City Councilman where he had championed infrastructure repair, especially fixing the terrible streets. Not satisfied with the status quo, Jonathan did his homework and found $250,000 – which Newburgh did not realize it had coming – from the state for additional street paving. Early in his career, Jonathan served as an Assistant Counsel to the Speaker of the New York State Assembly and was assigned to the Labor Committee where he researched and wrote legislation. Later, as an Assistant New York State Attorney General, he headed the Consumer Frauds Bureau at the Poughkeepsie Regional Office protecting the people of New York State from fraudulent and illegal business practices. He continued his public service career as a New York State Workers’ Compensation Law Judge. In the early 1990s, Jonathan headed the City of Newburgh Charter Review Commission and wrote a proposed new charter for Newburgh. Jonathan also started his own law firm and focused on representing workers in workers’ compensation and Social Security disability cases. Jonathan is a product of the Newburgh public school system, having graduated from Newburgh Free Academy (NFA). He graduated from Duke University, cum laude, with Honors in Political Science. Jonathan went on to graduate from New York Law School.
Peter Harckham
New York State Senate, District 40
Pete Harckham was elected to the New York State Senate in November of 2018. Prior to his election, Pete has had a distinguished career in public service, most recently having served in the Administration of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo from 2015-2018. In 2015 he was appointed by the Governor as the Assistant Director of the Office of Community Renewal, responsible for the roll out and implementation of a special allotment of $4.3M in CDBG funding for Westchester municipalities. For the past two years Pete served as the Director of Intergovernmental affairs for the $3.9B Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge project. Prior to his service to New York State, Pete served on the Westchester County Board of Legislators from 2008 – 2015. Pete was first elected in November 2007 representing the 2nd Legislative District, comprising all of northeast Westchester. He was a leading voice for maintaining vital services; protecting our fragile drinking water supplies the environment; and investing in our families. In 2010, Pete was selected by his colleagues to serve as Democratic Majority Leader of the Board of Legislators. He was selected because of his progressive values, work ethic, organizational skills and for being a bipartisan consensus builder willing to reach out and work across party lines to get things done. He served as Majority Leader through 2013, honoring his pledge to serve only two terms. During his tenure on the Board, Pete understood that it is more cost effective to keep people off of expensive social services so he has been a fierce defender of investments that assist the working poor to keep working and to help families on the cusp to stay in their homes. He also passed legislation creating a Westchester County Local Development Corporation to enable non profits to obtain low interest financing to expand facilities and create jobs. Pete focused extensive energy into protecting our fragile drinking water supplies. He coauthored ground-breaking legislation to ban the waste from hydrofracking from being treated in any wastewater facility in Westchester and prohibits the brine from hydrofracking from being used on any road in Westchester for deicing or to control dust. He also got NYC DEP to agree to a pilot project to test alternative septic technologies in the watershed. Further, he successfully led critical negotiations between the county, municipalities, New York State and New York City regarding formulation and implementation of new MS4 septic requirements that has saved municipalities hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also successfully led the effort to release over $20M of NYC DEP funds to address water quality challenges in northern Westchester. He helped to pass groundbreaking phosphorus reduction legislation to further protect our drinking water. He was at the center of legislative efforts to improve water and air quality, advance human rights and fair housing law as well as to protect young people from alcohol and drug abuse. He was recognized countywide as a leading advocate for the creation of affordable housing for seniors, emergency first-responders and the working poor. Before being elected to the BOL, Pete served as President of the Board of A-HOME (2004 to 2007), a not-for-profit housing corporation that builds affordable housing in northern Westchester. From 1992 to 2005, Pete served as Vice Chair of the Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation, a San Francisco-based foundation that supports the sustainable management of natural resources, the reduction of harmful toxins from the environment, and promotes arts and environmental education to underserved communities. Pete has been a communications professional since 1983 when he started his career on Madison Avenue and worked for ten years for major advertising agencies. From 2002 – 2008 he was President of Harckham Media Group, LLC, a strategic partnership of advertising, communications and production professionals. He also founded K&E Farms, a small horse farm in Katonah, NY, where he donated conservation easements from the farm to the Westchester Land Trust. He also converted his prior residence and farm to solar power. In addition to his professional work, Pete served on the President's Council for the Northern Westchester Hospital, was a board member for the United Way of Westchester and Putnam, the Junior League of Northern Westchester Community Advisory Council, the Livable Communities Council and for many years was a girls soccer coach for the Lewisboro Soccer Club. Pete is a lifelong resident of the Hudson Valley, having grown up in Rockland County. He moved to Katonah in Westchester in 1991 and now lives in South Salem. He has two adult daughters, Emma and Kate, who both attended the Katonah-Lewisboro public schools.
Kristen McManus
Associate State Director of Advocacy, AARP New York
Kristen McManus is the Associate State Director of Advocacy for AARP New York. After spending six years as an Office Director and Legislative Aide in the state Assembly, Ms. McManus joined AARP to focus her attention on consumer protection and financial security issues impacting older New Yorkers. In addition to her advocacy work, Ms. McManus served as the consumer representative on the state’s Out-of-Network Reimbursement Rate Workgroup, as well as the workgroup on Principle Based Reserving for Life Insurers. She was named as one of City & State’s 40 Under 40 Albany Rising Stars. A Long Island native, she currently resides in Albany, NY.
Shelley Mayer
Shelley Mayer
New York State Senator, District 37
Shelley Mayer has spent her career as an advocate for New Yorkers. She is an experienced and progressive leader. Shelley was elected to the New York State Senate to represent the 37th District in an April 2018 Special Election, and she was subsequently re-elected in November 2018. Prior to her time in the State Senate, she served in the State Assembly for six years. Shelley has been a champion for education issues and public schools throughout her time in the State Legislature. From 2013 to 2017, Shelley served as the Chair of the Assembly Education Subcommittee on Students with Special Needs. During this time, she advocated for and ensured that schools which serve the state’s most vulnerable students (Special Act, 4201, and 4410 Schools) receive increased funding from the state. While representing the City of Yonkers in the Assembly, Shelley prioritized delivering for the city’s 26,000+ public school students. In 2019, after being re-elected to the State Senate, Shelley was appointed to serve as the Chair of the State Senate Education Committee. One of her first achievements was the passing of the APPR bill which decoupled teacher evaluations from an undue reliance on state standardized tests. Shelley is also working on a civics package of bills to prepare New York State students for being engaged, active citizens in our democracy. She continues to work with her colleagues to deliver the resources and policies school districts throughout the state need to provide a quality education for every child, regardless of zipcode. Prior to being elected as a member of the State Legislature, Shelley served as Chief Counsel to the New York State Senate Democrats, where she helped lead the effort to expel the disgraced Hiram Monserrate and helped draft critical legislation to reform Albany and protect taxpayers. Before serving as Chief Counsel, Shelley was a Senior Counsel at the National State Attorney General Program at Columbia Law School, where she focused on health care and labor law rights. For over seven years, she was Vice President of Government and Community Affairs at Continuum Health Partners, one of New York City’s largest teaching hospital systems, working to protect Medicaid and Medicare services and improving the relationship between New York City’s diverse communities and the hospital system. From 1982 to 1994, Shelley was an Assistant Attorney General in the office of New York Attorney General Bob Abrams where she handled major reproductive health litigation. Shelley served in the Civil Rights Bureau, as Chief of the Westchester Regional Office, as the legislative liaison for the Attorney General and ultimately as a senior advisor to the Attorney General. As an Assistant Attorney General, Shelley fought to protect civil rights for New Yorkers and to broaden laws protecting consumers and tenants. Shelley received a JD from SUNY Buffalo School of Law in 1979 and a Bachelor of Arts from UCLA in 1975. Shelley lives in Yonkers with her husband of 36 years, Lee Smith. Shelley and Lee have three adult children – Aaron, Julia, and Arthur Smith.
Mike Lawler
New York State Assembly Member, District 97
Mike Lawler was elected to the New York State Assembly on November 3, 2020. His district is comprised of the southern portion of Rockland County. As an Assemblyman, Mike will work to reduce the state’s onerous tax burden, bring fiscal discipline to its budget, provide law enforcement with the resources needed to do its work, and craft legislation to improve public safety. Mike is a lifelong Rockland County resident and graduate of Suffern High School. In 2009, he earned a degree in Business Administration with a double major in Accounting and Finance from Manhattan College. His hard work earned him the distinction of Valedictorian of his graduating class. Prior to being elected to the Assembly, Mike served as Deputy Town Supervisor in Orangetown under Supervisor Teresa Kenny, and previously worked in the Westchester County Executive’s Office as an advisor to Rob Astorino. In those roles, he gained invaluable experience dealing with issues ranging from crafting a disciplined budget to public policy and community outreach initiatives. Previously, Mike served as Executive Director of the State Republican Party and has helped secure the election of candidates at federal, state, and local levels. In addition to his distinguished public service career, Mike is also a successful small-business owner. He will bring his experience and knowledge from the private sector – he previously founded his own government affairs and public relations firm – to best serve his constituents. Mike and his wife, Doina, live in Pearl River.
Kevin Byrne
Assembly Member, District 94
Kevin Byrne is the current assembly member for the 94th Assembly District, serves as the ranking Minority member on the Health Committee, and chairs the Assembly Minority Program Committee, making him the youngest member in his Conference’s leadership team. He also serves on the Insurance, Labor, Transportation, and Governmental Operations Committees. Previously he has served as the ranking Minority member on the Aging Committee and as the vice-chair of the Assembly Minority Steering Committee. Kevin resides in Mahopac with his wife, Briana (Messina) Byrne, who has a busy career as a physician assistant (PA) at Montefiore Hospital, and their rescued Treeing Walker Coonhound, Tracker. He is the third child of his two hardworking parents. His father, Dan, continues to work as a high-voltage troubleshooter at Con Edison with the UWUA Local 1-2, and his mother, Patty, is a past 20+ year employee of Putnam Hospital Center. Kevin was born and raised in the Hudson Valley, attending Carmel High School before enrolling at the University of Scranton. As a high school student, he showed an early commitment to community service and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. At Scranton, Byrne participated in the Army ROTC program, but his aspiration to military service was jeopardized by a previous spinal injury he sustained as a competitive student wrestler. Hoping to qualify for the Army physical, Byrne had a second surgery to remove a metal rod that had been used to repair his broken spine – but it was to no avail. Despite that, Byrne did complete the academic portion of the ROTC program coupled with an internship with then-Congresswoman Sue Kelly. Determined to be patriotic in every way he could, he focused intensely on public service in his volunteer activities, work, and political commitments. Following his graduation from the University of Scranton, Byrne returned to the Hudson Valley and continued his volunteer service as an assistant scoutmaster and member of the Putnam Valley Town Planning Board. He was also a volunteer firefighter and EMT for the Kent Volunteer Fire Department, where he served three terms as department president. His commitment to service was later recognized by Congresswoman Nan Hayworth, who appointed him deputy district director. After serving the people of New York’s 19th Congressional District, Kevin then left the public sector to serve as a regional director for the American Heart Association to help people suffering from cardiovascular diseases and stroke. While working full-time, he completed his graduate studies and received his M.P.A. with a concentration in Healthcare Administration at Marist College. Refusing to be a “rubber stamp” for any political party or power structure, Kevin has always been eager to learn and to make decisions based on facts and common sense. Those values and principles that guided him throughout his life continue to guide him as our representative in the New York State Assembly. Kevin first decided to run for elected office in 2016 when he noticed many of his friends and former classmates from his youth were moving out of New York State. Byrne believed then that a generation was being lost, and has since fought for a more affordable New York that would benefit all New Yorkers. Unfortunately, many of the challenges remain the same: high taxes, out-of-control government spending, corrupt politics, and jobs, as New Yorkers flee the avalanche of mandates that make life impossible for small businesses to survive. Kevin has dedicated his life in public office to reversing this decline and serving as our representative in the New York State Assembly.

Welcome & Introduction By Kay Dervishi, City & State NY



Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, District 38

Senator Peter Harckham, District 40

Senator Shelley Mayer, District 37

Assembly Member Kevin Byrnes, District 94

Assembly Member Mike Lawler, District 97

Assembly Member Jonathan Jacobson, District 104

Kristen McManus, Associate State Director of Advocacy, AARP New York


Session Ends

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