Interviews & Profiles

Sue Serino advises governing by listening

After losing a competitive reelection campaign against her colleague, Serino acknowledged the impact of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Republican state Sen. Sue Serino represented the Dutchess and Putnam Counties in the Hudson Valley for eight years.

Republican state Sen. Sue Serino represented the Dutchess and Putnam Counties in the Hudson Valley for eight years. New York state Senate

After eight years in the state Senate, Republican Sue Serino will not be returning for the next session. The senator lost her reelection bid to Democratic state Sen. Michelle Hinchey after they were both redistricted into the same seat. Serino spent much of her time in the upper chamber fighting for her constituents. The senator was influential in the construction of the Pudding Street Overpass to prevent fatal accidents at a Taconic State Parkway intersection in her district. Serino also prioritized bringing awareness to Lyme disease and tick-borne diseases as well as advocating for the needs of older adults for years. In an interview with City & State, Serino reflected on her time in the state Senate and vowed to continue working for her constituents. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment during your time in the state Senate?

I’m never somebody who likes to pat myself on the back, but our constituent services are second to none. They actually used my office as a role model for new senators coming into our conference because we returned every call and helped so many people with COVID and unemployment. We have people calling our office from other districts because they heard how we’ve been successful in helping people. That’s a really huge thank you to my team because they put their heart and soul into it. When I became the senator, I put together some advisory committees. One was veterans, because we have a lot of veterans. I care deeply about our aging population, so I did an aging committee and an education committee. I also did a lot of work around Lyme and tick-borne disease because we’re like the epicenter of it. Nobody had really been paying much attention to it, but it was a huge problem.

During my first year in the state Senate, people told me how this Taconic (intersection) where school buses and cars had to drive across to get to the other side. They didn’t have an overpass and so many people had gotten killed because of it. So I did something thinking outside of the box. I got on a school bus, reporters and other elected officials and I went, “Come on, we’re going to see what this experience is like.” It was so scary because it takes buses a little while to get across and people are just speeding coming toward you. Congresswoman Sue Kelly tried to get the money to get an overpass done over 20 years ago. But, we got it done and we finished it under time and under budget. Now there’s a beautiful overpass that we just named the First Responders Overpass for Putnam Valley. It’s going to save lives, and our kids are safer because of it.

You had to run against your colleague Democratic state Sen. Michelle Hinchey because of redistricting, and you ultimately lost the district that you had been representing for years. Do you have any takeaways from that experience?

I kept 25% of the district that I had already represented and 75% of the district was new. I had three maps before they landed on the final map because of all this gerrymandering that went on this year. Then we had a very short time to campaign. We only had July, August, September and October – four months to campaign. I think it was the timing and redistricting, it was just a short period of time for people to get to know us. I had Dutchess County, where they knew me, and I did well. But the other counties didn’t and the numbers were against us. I also think it was the abortion issue this year. There was a bill that came before us called the Equal Rights Amendment that I voted for. It was meant to put the decision out to voters. I talked to a ton of people, and no matter what side they were on, it was so sensitive. I said the only way for this to work is to go out to the public. It would just have to pass the Legislature and then go to the public for a vote. It was very hard to get that message out in a short period of time. I’m not someone who can just fit into a box where people say, “You Republicans all do this.” I’ve fought against my party from Day One when they’ve done the wrong thing. It’s really easy to fight against an opponent, but when it comes to your party, sometimes that’s not so easy. But for me, it was always about the people and our neighbors and taking care of them.

What are you going to miss most about working in the state Senate?

I’ll miss the constituent services because that’s what this job is all about. It’s about helping people. I think sometimes the longer we’re in Albany and the more bills that get passed, sometimes it’s not so good. It’s higher taxes and more regulations. And we have to be very thoughtful. I was a single mom for a good portion of my life, and I know what people are experiencing right now living paycheck to paycheck: They are really worried. So it’s the constituent services that I’m going to miss because that’s the part that I absolutely love. I love being in the public talking to people and hearing from them. I’ll still be around and I’m going to stay involved.

What will your involvement look like? Will you be running for elected office again?

I am thinking about things and seeing where the next chapter is going to take me. But I am going to stay involved. I’ve had a lot of people come to me and say “Sue, you can’t just go away. We want you to stay involved.” So we’ll see what happens.

Do you have any advice for the new state lawmakers heading into their first session?

What served me well is that I always govern by listening. You have to listen to everybody, It's not just about the party. It’s about the people you serve. I feel like a lot of times people get caught up in all the stuff and they're not putting boots on the ground and talking to the folks that really need the help.