New York State

State Senate Democrats could expand their ranks of women of color

Julie Shiroishi and Lea Webb could further diversify the upper chamber.

State Legislature in Albany

State Legislature in Albany Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

In 2020, when state Sen. Samra Brouk won her Rochester area seat, she became the first upstate woman of color in the state Senate. She joined the only two other women of color north of Westchester in the entire Legislature, forming a tiny contingent of three. But that number may soon expand if Democrats Julie Shiroishi in the Hudson Valley and Lea Webb in the Southern Tier emerge victorious on Nov. 8.

As Democrats have gained and then strengthened their control of the state Senate, the upper chamber’s ranks have steadily diversified. In recent years, New Yorkers elected the first Asian state senators, welcomed women into seats they had never before held and voted in the Legislature’s first Black, out gay lawmaker. When voters backed Brouk in 2020, flipping the 55th state Senate District in the process, she too made history, joining only Assembly Members Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Pamela Hunter as women of color outside of the New York City metro area.

Shiroishi, if elected, would not only increase that number and join what seems to be a slowly growing trend of upstate women of color running for office, she would make history in her own right as the first Japanese American state lawmaker. “I don’t look like most of the people – any of the people – who have represented this district or really run for office in this area,” Shiroishi told City & State, who is running to represent the 39th District in and around Poughkeepsie. “But that’s why I thought it was important.” Shiroishi is running against Poughkeepsie Mayor Robert Rolison, a white Republican whose father previously held a version of the Senate seat now up for grabs. “I’m aware of my identity; it’s not the only reason that I’m running,” Shiroishi said, noting that the Hudson Valley doesn’t have a large community of Asian Americans. “I want people to focus on my issues and my experience, but … I think it’s important to have people from a range of backgrounds involved in making the decisions that affect our lives.”

For Shiroishi, that background includes growing up in an immigrant family – her mother born in Japan and her father Japanese American. Her father, a union member and truck driver, had been interned during World War II when he and his family lived in California. That background includes becoming a first-generation college student before entering journalism, joining the publishing industry and eventually finding her way into politics and government as chair of the Dutchess County Democrats and chief of staff to Assembly Member Jonathan Jacobson. “I’m not intimated that he’s held office for so long,” Shiroishi said of her opponent, who served in the Dutchess County Legislature for 12 years before becoming mayor of Poughkeepsie in 2016.

Unlike first-time candidate Shiroishi, Webb comes into her state Senate race having served two terms as a Binghamton City Council member. At the age of 26, when voters first elected her, she was already aware that she was a shift away from the area’s typical representative. “One of the things that pushed me to (run), which was a barrier, was the lack of diverse representation,” Webb told City & State. “I didn’t see any folks of color, very limited representation from a gender or gender diversity standpoint.” She feels similarly about her campaign for the 52nd District against Binghamton Mayor Richard David, who is biracial. “Coming from a marginalized community, you understand the multi-layers of barriers that exist on a lot of issues, and it’s important because you bring perspective that is also helpful,” Webb said.

Webb spoke about the obstacles that often make it even harder for candidates like her to enter electoral politics when coming from areas that haven’t historically had diverse representation. “As people of color, we’re often asked the question around, like, ‘Can you represent everyone?’,” Webb said, adding that questions about “electability” will get thrown around as well in a way that white candidates may not experience. “That’s something that I have significant experience with.” Like Shiroishi, Webb said she hopes that her campaign will inspire other folks from marginalized communities to take the plunge and run for office despite the barriers that may have dissuaded them.

Heading into Election Day, both Webb and Shiroishi have the enrollment advantage in both their reliably blue districts, with Webb having a 21-point Democratic edge and Shiroishi with a 10-point advantage when it comes to national voting patterns. And with recent polling showing inflation and the economy at the top of voters’ minds across the state, both candidates have doubled down on economic issues. Webb, a union member from a union family, emphasized supporting small businesses and addressing wage inequality, while Shiroishi focused on bringing jobs back to her economically depressed region and helping young people get the secondary schooling they need to better prepare them for the workforce.

While the tightening race for governor suggests that much can still change before Election Day, even as Democrats outperformed expectations in recent elections in New York and across the nation, the odds favor Webb and Shiroishi to join the small but growing group of female lawmakers of color across the state.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.