Assemblymember Barrett: One Woman’s Agenda

I am often asked in the one year since I was elected to the New York State Assembly: “How is it in Albany? Is it what you expected?” My honest answer is that I truly had no expectation of what it would be like to work in Albany. My motivation for serving in the State Legislature has always been twofold: To be an advocate for the beautiful, naturally and culturally rich Hudson Valley, a region I am so fortunate to represent, and to be a role model to encourage other women and girls to step up and run for office, ensuring the voices of women are always heard in the places decisions are being made.

The fact is that even in 2013 in New York State, the state that put women’s rights on the map, women’s voices are still far too rare. Women currently make up only 22 percent of the members of the New York State Legislature. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is the only woman elected statewide. And while State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ recent election as Leader of the Senate Minority Conference made her the first woman to head a legislative conference in New York, too much of the control of State Government still remains firmly in the hands of the storied three – or sometimes four – men in a room.

Even with no expectations, these last few months in the State Legislature have been challenging to say the least. I knew Albany’s reputation for dysfunction and I’m committed to helping to change that. But the spate of recent news – corruption schemes, indictments, wired legislators and predatory behavior – has been staggering. As a lifetime advocate for women and girls, I am particularly outraged by the blatant sexual harassment by former legislator Vito Lopez and angered that the young women involved have become unwitting pawns in any number of different political agendas.

I am proud to be a public servant and I wish for the next generation of girls and young women to look to public service and elected office as worthy career paths. I, like others, ran for the State Assembly in part to make sure that issues impacting women and families are addressed – safe communities, education, economic development, clean environment, child care, senior services, food justice, and healthcare. Further, I feel an obligation to help assure that women working in and for the Legislature operate in an environment in which they feel safe, productive and professional. Simply put, we need more women in local, state and federal office. I know first hand that most institutions work better when there are women at the table and I believe that Albany’s culture will improve with more women in elected office.

We all know that change comes slowly. But, I came to Albany to make a difference and I remain committed to meaningful reform: Greater transparency in all parts of government, independent redistricting and real campaign finance reform. There is much work to be done and I hope the remaining weeks of the 2013 session will continue to be productive. I was thrilled when the Governor made the Women’s Equality Agenda a highlight of his State of the State message in January. I look forward to working with him to pass landmark legislation that moves the women of New York State forward on all ten points of his agenda. And then I hope more women will step up and be the change we all want to see.