Jeanette Provenzano, lifetime Democrat, has had her hat in the political ring since 1986 as one of the city’s representatives on the county legislature. A one-time mayoral candidate and proud full-blooded Italian, Provenzano rolled up her sleeves and raised seven kids as a single mom while working full-time. She is known for her loyalty, strength in character, work ethic and direct, straightforward candor. She is supportive, caring and can inspire anyone, myself included, to feel like they can make a difference. I would definitely not want to have her Christmas shopping list, however, as it is quite extensive.
Carrie Jones Ross: Where were you born and raised?
Jeanette Provenzano: Kingston, New York.
JP: Kingston High School, 1953. It should have been 1952, but I quit and went back. I went to night classes. My parents are immigrants from Italy (mother from Calabria, father from Naples) and there was not a stress on education at that time. It was about working. But I went back and went to night class. Then I went to SUNY-Empire and got an associate’s degree in science.
JP: Seven kids — Michael, Sally, Dino, Rose, Linda, Michelle, Laurie.
JP: Fourteen grandkids ranging from ages 32 to 1; five great-grandchildren.
CJR: Astrological sign?
CJR: You seem like such a nice lady … why politics?
JP: I was cleaning a drawer recently and came across an old pin I used to wear every day, and it said, “A woman’s place is in the struggle.” I think that says it nicely. I have always believed if you want to accomplish anything, you have to be in the game, and you must take some kind of leadership or advocacy role.
[At the time], I had found myself at the age 47, as one of the statistics of being separated and divorced, and I always had an interest in politics. My father, Dominick “Guyan” Yonta, was very active in the early 1940s. In 1982, Don Quick was running for mayor and he lived in the Sixth Ward. I had just moved into the ward and they needed a candidate. That was my first introduction into office. I didn’t win; I lost by 50 votes. I had attended some of the meetings and when I was divorced, I was livid to find out when I moved back into Kingston after raising my kids in Port Ewen it would cost a huge sum of money to have my phone connected. They said I was a new subscriber. I was highly offended by that. I thought that there must be something you can do about this, this is not fair. I thought about this when running. There’s all these issues out there and who will represent you? Back in my day women made 59 cents to the dollar for men. It goes to show you how many years that women have not received equal pay for equal work. Women, moms needed representation.
CJR: What happened?
JP: I became actively involved in the party. In 1985 I was part owner/operator with my son’s store. I had the opportunity to run for legislator — there were four Democrats, one Republican. They needed five Democrats and someone thought it would be a great idea to have a woman. They never thought I would win. They thought it would look good in “the picture.” My theory has always been that it does not matter why or how you got the opportunity, take it. So, I won. It shocked a lot of people. 1986-87 was my first term on the legislature.
CJR: How do you think you won?
JP: I won because I campaigned really hard. I knocked on doors and introduced myself every day. I knocked on a lot. I was very fortunate that people gave me consideration.
CJR: Were you the only woman on the legislature?
JP: No. There might have been four. Two other Democratic women.
CJR: How did you come to run for mayor?
JP: Our party was having problems finding a mayoral candidate. I accepted; my party endorsed me. I was the first woman to receive the party’s endorsement to run for mayor. It was difficult because as a woman, I did not get the funding that men automatically get. It was considered an outside chance. It was close. It was within 100 votes. Then I went to work for state Sen. Art Gray for a term, I was his Ulster County case constituent and had an office on Fair Street in 1988 or so.
CJR: How did men treat you?
JP: They were very respectful.
CJR: Define good leadership.
JP: Good leadership is making sure that you keep those that you’re representing, your own caucus, informed on all actions and all meetings, events.
CJR: What have been some of the most important or special-to-you causes that you gave worked as legislator?
JP: The Democrats were way ahead of our time. Human rights were very important to us, and include people of all sexual orientation. Being a leader, we got a big push back. We were only asking for a public hearing on it, and we never got it. We had a resolution and a lot of people come and speak, it failed along party lines. That was very important. In those days, the tax increases were so high. The Republican Party was not a party of inclusion. There were times we would come to a vote and they would put a thick packet in front of us to quickly read and vote on. We were never included. We never had leadership meetings back then. You had to work hard. As time went on, it changed. As leadership changed, as times changed, and as I got more experience, it changed. It was more involved. That’s why it was so important for me to be a minority party leader.
CJR: What are you most proud of?
JP: When the Democrats took over the majority of the legislature, seven years ago. I was elected majority leader. My committee, Administrative Services, was a special committee that included two Democrats, two Republicans, every representative of each union that worked for the county such as CSEA, sheriff’s department, middle management … We discovered the reason the county was having a problem to make a determination of self-insurance [for health care] was because we offered too many different plans and the agencies would not share information on employee use. We managed to get to an agreement eventually — we got it down to where we interviewed four different companies and ended up hiring and managed to create one proposal and one insurance that we provided to all the employees, which in the very first year saved the county $4 million. That’s what I am most proud of.
CJR: What are some of the committees that you have sat on? Favorite committee?
JP: I was the majority leader so I didn’t have a lot of committee assignments. Social Services for many years, Public Works, I liked that one. It gave you opportunities. What I love the most about the job is that people get to a point, they get desperate and they have no one to call — I felt that was the most rewarding part was to be able to walk them through whatever process they needed. And understanding I was always considered more of a centrist Democrat. I am a social liberal and fiscal conservative. It’s not about spending more money, it’s about spending it smarter.
CJR: Is your desk messy, or clean?
JP: Most of the time, my desk is clean but the drawer might be a little messy. I’m talking about my desk in the legislature. At home it is mostly clean where I work from.
CJR: What do you do for recreation?
JP: I golf. Watch Fit TV network, and do exercise tapes at home. I also go to Planet Fitness sometimes as well.