SW: I saw early on you were out front and very visible as the pandemic hit our area. What motivate you to step up
and out that way?
SM: My answer is I am driven by empathy and I believe in empathy.
The suffering and the death and the sadness of so many people in my district drives me to show up. I’m healthy and
I’m not nervous. I believe this is what we as elected people should do. We should show up and help where we can I
wanted to be public and so spent a lot of time in food distribution, PPE distribution. I met with area hospital workers
and nursing home personnel to intercede on their behalf to get more and better PPE equipment to meet the growing
need and protect them.
SW: What is your take on the economic impact of COVID on our area?
SM: It felt like in my district, the economy died in a single day. It was clear to me right away that food would be an huge immediate issue. I woke up
one day and here were food lines around the corner across different parts of my district. I have never seen this before in my lifetime growing up in
this area. There are a lot of small retail businesses that were already struggling. So much so that when we open back up at least 1 out of 3 places
on Central Avenue in Yonkers will be vacant for some time. Hundreds of primarily Latino and minority run restaurants in Port Chester and the other
restaurants there and in White Plains, Yonkers and the overall hospitality industry have been devastated. I spent time talking to food service workers
wondering what will happen to their jobs and their families. Despair over the loss of small family businesses often owned by immigrant founders.
That was killing me.
SW: Beyond the direct action you took with food and PPE distribution how else did you respond?
SM: My staff and I got directly involved fighting for unemployment benefits for my constituents which took up a major amount of time. We had 5
fulltime staff working on this issue alone” and working seven days a week. We were advocating on behalf of individuals with the Governor’s office
and the Department of Labor to get claims verified and benefits paid. One example, we got a call from a woman in Brooklyn who read an article in
the New York Times about what we were doing to help people and after failing to get anywhere on her own. She emailed our office at 11:30 at night.
Mary Kate responded to the email by midnight and spoke to the woman and in two days after waiting six weeks, she was qualified and enrolled. The
New York Times journalist covering the story called and asked me why we got involved in this at all, saying, “You’re a state legislator covering
Westchester. She works for the EEOC. Why would you do this?”
My answer is “This is very personal to me. The scale of suffering is huge and very real.”
SM: There were a lot of challenges with the initial distribution of funds through the PPP. I did a number of Zoom calls with businesses to help them
find a path. Second round we did much better helping them secure funding that allowed them to stay afloat. Throughout this crisis my staff has
conducted nightly conference calls in conjunction with the County Executive and other Westchester elected officials with Governor Cuomo’s senior
staff to coordinate and to advocate on a range of issues. And I personally reached out to both U.S. Senators and members of Congress to push for
more education funding
SW: As Chair of the State Senate Education Committee what do you see the impact on Education Funding has been and might be going forward?
SM: At our last quarter, the New York State budget deficit was up to 10 billion and we barely made it through without a cut. Yonkers city budget has
a deficit hole. Their school district has a hole and if the state cuts 20%, that could impact the Assistance to Municipalities that represents 107 million
that Yonkers gets. This could mean the end of all kinds of supported educational programs could be cut and more layoffs beyond the over 100
people that have already been laid off. The potential negative impact is huge. The current school budgets may or may not survive and more cuts
SW: Do you have any sense of how the return to school will be handled?
SM: There is room for a much more robust conversation of how schools should open and especially how to deal with the special needs community.
Unfortunately, things are still evolving so those discussions are still in the early stages and no firm plan has been set.
SW: How should we address the loss of revenue at the state level?
SM: I have resisted tax increases up until now. Westchester is one of the highest tax areas in the country but the inequality of the economic
impact is inescapable. I decided to propose a modest 2-year short term tax increase targeted to those making over 5 million dollars to help
address the unequal burden sharing. Many people in communities like Bronxville, Rye, White Plains or my community in Yonkers are all still being
paid while working from home but the lower wage service workers are suffering deeply. I have people in my district making 5 million, 10 million or
100 million or more dollars. We must look to them to help us stabilize the situation.
SW: What other areas do you think might be impacted or changed by COVID?
SM: Commuting to the city will continue to be on the decline.
SW: How has being on the front lines of this pandemic affected you personally?
SM: The scale, the death and the economic loss to so many people stays with me but despite this reality, the
goodwill and sense of we are all in this together is evident and it keeps me going. I am optimistic Yonkers, Bronxville and
the surrounding communities will come back because of their proximity to New York City. Also, a number of city residents want to escape the
density of the city and move to the suburbs. So, long term I am confident that communities like yours and those close to New York City will bounce
back. For other communities the road may be harder and take a lot longer.
SW: How do you feel about Governor Cuomo’s leadership during the crisis?
SM: The Governor has done a masterful job realizing he did not know what he was up against and yet did his best to respond and lead in an
effective way. It’s very hard to see all this suffering and not to be able to do as much as you would like to respond. It’s a tough time to be an
elected official. People want to feel like they are heard …that someone is standing up for them… calls them back… responds to every email. My
staff has been on top of all this in that regard. Port Chester has higher per capita positives other than Mt. Vernon in terms of COVID because of
its density. We were able to get more testing in SW Yonkers and are trying to get more for Port Chester and other areas
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