There was a giddy air of celebration last Wednesday, January 2 at the Mulberry House Senior Center in Middletown, where newly elected State Senate District 42 representative Jen Metzger of Rosendale was being sworn in, along with returning District 100 assemblywoman Aileen Gunther of Forestburgh. Among the 300+ attendees were many friends, colleagues and admirers of Metzger from Ulster County, who had made the trek to bear witness to a truly historic occasion for female legislators in New York State.
“This is getting to be so much fun, when you’ve waited so long to see the change you’ve been working for…and you realize the power of people,” enthused Andrea Stewart-Cousins of the 35th District as she introduced the former Rosendale town councilwoman. Thanks to the “blue wave” of the 2018 election, Stewart-Cousins herself had just become the first female majority leader in the history of the New York State Senate. “We have 15 new senators, which is unprecedented, and 14 of the new senators in the Democratic conference are women!” she said. “You know you sent me one of the best when you sent senator Jen Metzger.”
The ceremony began with requisite pomp as an honor guard from the City of Middletown Police Department performed a Presentation of the Colors, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and invocations from two clerics: Rolfi Elivo of the Warwick Reformed Church and rabbi Marcus Rubinstein of Temple Sinai of Middletown. Bloom, an all-female vocal ensemble from Metzger’s hometown, then gave a rousing rendition of Pat Humphries’ anthem “Common Thread,” and the audience joined in on the chorus of “We will all rise together, we will rise!” Fellow Rosendalers Carl Welden and Carl Cox captured the performance with video and still cameras respectively.
Middletown mayor Joseph DeStefano presided as the evening’s master of ceremonies, lauding Metzger for her vigorous outreach and accessibility during the campaign. “That’s why we all know her as Jen,” DeStefano said. “That’s why, in spite of this being an incredibly large and unwieldy district, we feel connected to you.”
Vidar Hageman, a Warwick High School student who had been a Metzger campaign volunteer said that his goal was to pursue a career in public service, and he recited a poem by Miller Williams titled “Of History and Hope.” Ninth District New York State Supreme Court justice Sandra Sciortino administered the oath of office first to Gunther, who cited combating the opioid crisis, ensuring broadband access for all her constituents and properly celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival as among her priorities for the coming Assembly term. Then Lori Nguyen, regional director for the Hudson Valley for US senator Chuck Schumer, read a letter from her boss congratulating both Gunther and Metzger and announcing that Metzger had already been appointed chair of the State Senate’s Agriculture Committee.
When Stewart-Cousins finished lavishing her praise on Metzger, predicting that 2019 would be “a very good year” in the State Senate with her help, Justice Sciortino swore in the new legislator as Metzger’s family — husband John Schwartz and sons Jasper, Silas and Gideon — stood alongside her. The new senator then thanked her staff and supporters, her hosts and distinguished guests, gracefully acknowledging retiring District 42 state senator John Bonacic before thanking her family — especially the three boys “for dressing up.”
Noting that her new district covers 2,400 square miles of diverse communities, Metzger noted, “We are all bound together by common ideals. We all want to be treated equally and fairly. We all want a good quality of life for ourselves, and an even better quality of life for our children. We want a healthy environment, affordable health care, decent wages, good schools, homes that we can afford to retire in.” She pledged to “represent people, not corporate donors,” and to pursue “campaign finance reform, election reform and ethics reform” at the state level.
“I am truly looking forward to working with you, with our farmers and small businesses, with our brothers and sisters in labor, with community organizations and with our schools and local governments to help our towns and cities, our villages and hamlets thrive,” Senator Metzger said. “Working together, we can make a huge difference in our communities and in people’s lives.”
Following her speech, Metzger’s campaign manager, singer/songwriter Kelleigh McKenzie, produced a banjo and sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” throwing in a new verse referencing local landmarks like the Hudson River and the Shawangunk Ridge. The crowd was soon on its feet, clapping in time and singing along.
Following the ceremony, attendees gathered to celebrate at the Tapped Craft Beer & Restaurant across the street from the senior center. “This is exciting for New Paltz, because we know how hard of a worker Jen is, and we know that we have shared political sensibilities,” said Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers. “I couldn’t be more excited about Jen going to Albany,” Deputy Mayor KT Tobin agreed. “I’ve worked with her for over a decade. She rolls up her sleeves and get things done. Now she’s going to get things done that New York needs.”
“The optimism that Jen brings with her is immeasurable,” added Eve Waltermaurer, a longtime friend of Metzger’s as well as the chair of the New Paltz Village Planning Board. “I’m looking forward to 2019 being a game-changer for New York.” ++