Inauguration Remarks by Assemblywoman Dana Levenberg (as prepared)

What an incredible honor, privilege, and pleasure it has been to have Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the top-ranking US Senators, come here to Cortlandt today to swear me in to the NYS Assembly. Even more significant since he started his career as a young Assembly Member himself, back in 1974.

I am also incredibly honored and blessed to have participation and leadership of today’s ceremony by students from schools throughout my Assembly District. After all, what is it that we are doing in elected office if not working to make this a better world for our children and their children as well? 

And of course a huge shout out to all of you, my family, friends, and colleagues in government, for blessing me with your presence today, either coming from near and far, or tuning in by zoom (Hi Mom and Mur!). It is, indeed, exciting to know I have so many partners cheering me on from the very start.

This week is also such a significant week on many levels. First, it is the week in which we remember and recognize the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, who we know shared so many lasting messages that we all must keep top of mind as we legislate and serve the people. Two of those which particularly resonate with me today are: 

  • “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” and
  • “The time is always right to do what is right” and I might add: even if it is unpopular!

Second, January 20th is the day when Presidents are inaugurated in this country. It is humbling, of course, to also be formally inaugurated on this day. I remember Amanda Gorman reading that incredible poem she wrote, “The Hill We Climb,” at President Biden’s inauguration as another reminder of the promise of youth and the inspiration and hope young people offer us as a guiding light. 

Our students are our future. Their civic engagement is critical to the foundation of our democracy.I have to tip my hat to my predecessor, the Honorable Sandy Galef, who certainly led in the area of youth engagement. Many of you probably received Sandy’s wonderful final newsletter, which included many pictures from her 30 years of service in the Assembly. It also included, and there were even more online, pictures of hundreds of young people who interned in her office. So many of them went on to work in government or affiliated fields and I know for a fact many of them did so because of the window they received into all that government can do to affect positive change while working with Sandy.

Last week, leading up to MLK Day, I was invited to attend a screening of the film Defining Us: Children at the Crossroads of Change to celebrate 10 years of the ACTION group of educators working on issues of equity.I was so excited to meet there, coincidentally, some of the mBk (My Brother’s Keeper) students who are here leading this ceremony today! The film itself left me with important messages about how we can all succeed as a civil society and do so much better if we believe in ourselves and each other. And by supporting our young people as we would our own children, with love and positive messages, belief in them that they can succeed at anything they set their young minds to, ownership of the fact that preconceived notions are detrimental to their and our future successes, and the need for our generation to do better and do right by those who may have had less than, or difficult circumstances and challenges to overcome. That is, for us to recognize that our youth are more than, and to treat them as such. 

My family history during the Holocaust reflects this. My mom was a hidden child in Holland. She had the good fortune to be taken in by a righteous Christian family who didn’t judge, just loved her and believed in her, supported, fed and housed her, at great risk to themselves. My sister and I wouldn’t be here today without the Schouten family showering my mom with love.

It’s also a reminder that the underlying issues that many of us hear about on the campaign trail demand our focus. For us to ensure a peaceful society free from crime and hate, we must make sure each and every one of our children have nutritious food in their bellies every day, a roof over their heads and safe housing, clean air and clean water to breathe and to drink, green and clean spaces to play, create and thrive, and supports for their healthy growth, physical and mental, into the leaders, movers and shakers of tomorrow.

I am so excited to be diving in head first to many of these issues which are at the heart of ensuring a healthy society in which our youth, as well as all of us, can grow, develop and excel. I have already started to co-sponsor so many environmental conservation and environmental justice bills, looking to move us off fossil fuels and towards sustainable energy. Housing bills that are critical to increasing the supply of safe, affordable housing. And walkable, bikeable communities. Infrastructure bills that will improve our roads and make them more conducive to sustainability. Criminal justice reform bills looking to reduce recidivism and focus on second chances for those who have reformed while incarcerated and are ready to be productive members of society. Mental and physical protections in bills so important to our health and well-being. Education initiatives that are nuanced and support the whole child in this post COVID world.

And I’m just getting started!I’m excited that I will be working on so many of these issues very closely, having been assigned to the Environmental Conservation, Housing, Corrections, Local Governments and Libraries and Educational Technology committees. I have more legislation in the works and I, of course, look forward more than anything to working with you and all of the residents of the 95th assembly district, and my colleagues, to make sure our needs are addressed, and our world is improved through the work we do in Albany.

To that end:Please join me for one of my upcoming Town Hall meetings, virtually in Thursday, Jan 26th at 7:30, or in person on Feb 4th at 10am,or Feb 11, at a couple of our amazing libraries. We have also already started planning for mobile office hours around the district, and a huge shout out to the Town of Cortlandt, and Supervisor Becker, not only saying yes to hosting us for that, but for tonight as well. You are the consummate hosts! Also, if you haven’t met my incredible Chief of Staff Victoria Cafarelli, and Communications Director Acacia Mauriello, tonight’s the night! They are an integral part of tonight’s event as well as my office and making sure we do right by all of you, so a gigantic thank you to them as well, and please do introduce yourselves to them. 

Thank you all again. Couldn’t do any of this without you!

And now, while she couldn’t be here today, I introduce my friend Ola Nosseir, founder of Our Common Beliefs, for the benediction.