IGNITEing the Pace Community: Senator Harckham’s Town Hall

Four months into his term, New York State Senator Pete Harckham emphasizes his accomplishments and goals to the Pace community

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IGNITEing the Pace Community: Senator Harckham’s Town Hall

State Senator Pete Harckham draws the Pace community into a discussion on activism, empowerment, and leadership.

State Senator Pete Harckham draws the Pace community into a discussion on activism, empowerment, and leadership.

Eric Alonzo

State Senator Pete Harckham draws the Pace community into a discussion on activism, empowerment, and leadership.

Eric Alonzo

Eric Alonzo

State Senator Pete Harckham draws the Pace community into a discussion on activism, empowerment, and leadership.

Callie Anderson, Contributing Writer

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One of Pace’s newest student organizations is already engaging the Pace community in thinking about activism, women’s empowerment, and leadership. At its first big campus event, IGNITE hosted a tea and coffee town hall with New York State Senator Pete Harckham this past Thursday.

The event was co-sponsored by the Political Science Association, the Pace Democrats, the Student Government Association, and the Center for Community Action and Research. Students, faculty, staff, and administrators, including President Marvin Krislov and Provost Vanya Quiñones, attended to hear about what the senator has accomplished in his first term so far, ask him about upcoming legislation, and learn about civic engagement.

Senator Harckham represents Senate District 40, which spans parts of Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester counties, including Pleasantville. He began his first term in January after winning his seat during last November’s midterm election. Harckham is just one of the new Democratic faces in the New York State Senate that caused the Democrats to gain a majority. With a Democrat-controlled Senate, Assembly, and governor, Democrats have been able to actively pursue their goals with little standing in their way.

According to Senator Harckham, the first three weeks of the session in January were vital. They focused on democracy by expanding voting laws including preregistration to vote for 16 and 17-year-old’s (A774) and early voting (A780). They also passed legislation that they were not able to pass with a republican-controlled Senate such as the Reproductive Health Act that codifies Roe v. Wade (S240). Other legislation addressed issues related to gender identity including conversion therapy (A576) and discrimination based on gender identity or expression (S1047).

Senator Harckham is the chair of the Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Committee. In this position, he will be playing an important role in legislation for the legalization of marijuana in New York state. However, this will be a long process with some hurdles along the way.

In March, Senator Harckham hosted a public forum on legalization in Mahopac in Putnam County. He explained that many people in his district—especially in Putnam and Dutchess Counties, which are much more conservative than Westchester—have legitimate fears about marijuana legalization. High schools are already struggling to control students vaping and juuling, so legalization may just add another layer to this issue. Also, there are many structural challenges to put in place such as training police officers for how to recognize signs of driving while high.

As well as marijuana legalization, Senator Harckham recognizes substance abuse problems in the country’s prison system.

“Because we have cut back so on community mental health, our prisons have become the de facto hospitals for mental health issues and substance abuse issues,” explained Senator Harckham. “By the time people get there, it’s so much more expensive and they are so much farther down the road and cost society so much more. We need to decriminalize addiction and mental illness. We need the treatment and the community mental health improvements out on the street before people even get there.”

Eric Alonzo
The Pace community asked Senator Harckham about local issues that he has voted on and what plans he has for the future.

Another issue Senator Harckham has focused on is education. In the state budget passed earlier this year, he helped secure millions of dollars for local school districts like Ossining, Peekskill, and Brewster. These schools were targeted for additional financial assistance because they are growing districts, have many English language learner (ELL) students, high immigrant populations, and have historically been beneath the 50% threshold of foundation aid. This funding was part of an overall increase of $1 billion into education.

“Our next step is to figure out how we reshape education funding in New York state so that every child regardless of zip code gets a quality education,” Senator Harckham said.

Every school, every town, and every county has different wants and needs—an issue Senator Harckham said he is well aware of as he represents a district with diverse ideological perspectives.

“They [Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester counties] are very different places with very different needs and very different philosophies,” he said. “Putnam and Dutchess are fairly conservative places. Putnam County by registration concentration is the most Republican county in the state. Westchester is fairly progressive. But it is my job to represent everybody equally.”

Eric Alonzo
Senator Pete Harckham wearing a Pace hat posing with IGNITE’s executive board after the event.

Even though there are many differences between Senator Harckham and other community leaders like mayors and supervisors, he says that it is his role to help the local governments with what they need from economic development to housing, from growth to infrastructure.

Moving forward, one of the biggest local issues for the first-term senator to tackle is the closure of Indian Point Energy Center in the village of Buchanan near Peekskill. He acknowledged that the closure will affect about 1,200 jobs as well as the tax base for the Hendrick Hudson School District. To relieve this burden, Senator Harckham emphasized the need to spur economic development in order to replenish the tax base that is lost through Indian Point’s decommission.

Addressing the jobs that will be lost, Senator Harckham said that there is legislation currently in committee that will require whoever is decommissioning Indian Point to hire existing workers before looking out of state for workers.

“We can’t preserve all of the jobs, but we can preserve a lot of them and that way we aren’t bringing in out-of-state workers at half the rate and sending that money out,” Senator Harckham said.

Senator Harckham’s main message for the Pace community is the importance of being engaged in the nearby villages and towns. Even though the federal government tends to have a monopoly on much of the news, he said there are important issues being addressed at the state and local levels as well that people should care about.

“It’s important for me to hear what’s important to you,” said Senator Harckham, who urged attendees to reach out to him via email at harckham@nysenate.gov. “As an elected official, I can be the first to tell you I don’t have all of the answers. My colleagues don’t have all of the answers. And very often the ideas for legislation and change come from individuals, small groups, and activists and works its way up. Sometimes it starts at town government or country government before it gets to the state government. What you do does matter and what you have to say does matter.”

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