Andrea Stewart-Cousins was formally installed as the first woman majority leader of the state Senate on Wednesday, a history-making moment for New York’s state government.
“When you think about it, not that long ago, women weren’t even allowed to walk on the floor of this chamber,” Stewart-Cousins said, before asking the nearly two-dozen women in the chamber on both sides of the aisle to stand for applause.
Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat who has been the leader of the conference since 2012, is now one of the most powerful people in state government. She will haggle over the details and specifics of the state budget with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, making her the first woman to be included in the “three men in a room” negotiations.
“It is time for the proverbial three men in a room to say goodbye to how they think our government should be run,” said Deputy Majority Leader Sen. Mike Gianaris. “The winds of change are sweeping a fabulous scarf into the room, and things will never be the same.”
Stewart-Cousins will preside over a large majority of 39 members, after Democrats have been a decade out of power in the state Senate and occasionally at odds with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Democrats in both the Senate and Assembly have telegraphed plans to take a more aggressive approach with Cuomo and the budget. Cuomo himself has been accused by some advocates of helping Republicans retain power in the Senate for the most the decade.
Cuomo last year endorsed and campaigned for Democratic candidates, including crucial swing seats in Senate. Several prominent women in the Cuomo administration, including Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa, was on hand in the chamber to watch Stewart-Cousins be sworn in.
Cuomo has also sought to emphasize the issues in which he agrees with Democratic lawmakers, as a flurry of legislative activity is expected in the coming weeks on issues like gun control, voting reform, and bolstering abortion rights.
Also aligning with Cuomo, Stewart-Cousins backed a permanent extension of the state’s cap on property tax increases.
“We’re going to lower our tax burden for middle-class New Yorkers and make the tax cap permanent,” Stewart-Cousins said.
And there was a sense on Wednesday, the first day of session in 2019, the Capitol was undergoing a change in a city long resistant to the concept.
“As I reflect on what this day means, I think of opportunities and barriers,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I think of all the giants we know.”