Jamie Cheney is a business owner, a beef farmer and the mother of three young boys. Now she’s running in NY-19’s Democratic primary to add congresswoman to that list.
Ten years ago, Cheney, a Harvard Business School graduate, co-founded a search firm called Prokanga to encourage financial service companies to accommodate working parents. Research showed that talented professionals needed three policies to do their best work: child care, comprehensive health care and flexible hours. At first, Prokanga had to convince employers to meet parents’ needs. But, says Cheney, as the job market tightened, the financial services industry saw these practices as a way to retain employees.
Cheney is now on a leave of absence from Prokanga. In May, 2021, she decided to run in 2022 to represent District 39 in the New York State Senate. But when New York’s redistricting lines were finally settled, she found that she would have to run against an incumbent, Michelle Hinchey. She conferred with Hinchey and decided to run for congress in the newly redrawn NY-19 district, which encompasses a vast swath of territory stretching from the Massachusetts border of Columbia County out to Ithaca, and includes much of northern Ulster County, a new district taking on parts of the one previously represented by now Lt. Governor Antonio Delgado.
Among her campaign’s top issues are the cost of living, gun violence and reproductive rights. She says, “The cost of living is crushing,” she says. “We need short-term solutions. People can’t wait.”
At 43, Cheney (no relation to the Wyoming Cheneys) knows she’s been lucky. “I’m a child of the in-between times, born after Roe and before active shooter drills,” but she knows those are top-of-mind issues for parents since recent Supreme Court rulings that removed the constitutional right to abortion and some restrictions on carrying guns.
Cheney is running a campaign ad that tells the story of her own abortion. She says she became dangerously ill with an immune disorder when she was pregnant with her fourth child. Doctors recommended medication that could harm the fetus she was carrying so she and her husband opted for an abortion.
She says she is telling her story not because it’s rare — but because it is “all too common…it is the reality of abortion in America.” She wants people to understand that abortion is part of women’s health care and says that, as a woman, she can take a holistic approach, talking about the rural Ob-Gyn desert and access to contraception.
Cheney believes that even Republican New Yorkers support women’s right to choose and that some will swing her way in a November general election, should she prevail in the August 23 primary. She recently tweeted: “Women are half of this country’s population, but only 28% of Congress. I am running to change that.” She has endorsements from Emily’s List and several Democratic women’s groups.
Another asset: Cheney knows agriculture. She and her husband own Falcon’s Fields, a 70-head Wagyu and Angus beef farm. NY-19, which now stretches from Columbia County in the east to Tompkins County in the west, includes many farmers who, Cheney believes, want someone who understands their challenges. After traversing NY-19 with no cell service for miles at a stretch, she knows one priority will be rural broadband, with funding from the Farm Bill.
Cheney’s rival in the primary race is attorney Josh Riley of Endicott, NY, who has worked in politics in Albany, Washington and Florida. He has endorsements from numerous Democratic clubs and unions. But a poll commissioned by Cheney’s campaign in late June showed that 70% of primary voters had not yet decided who should square off against Republican Marc Molinaro on November 8.
As a first-time candidate, Cheney faces some big hurdles. She is running in one of the most rural districts in the country. NY-19 is the size of Massachusetts so Cheney is on the road a lot and has set up a headquarters in Ithaca, several hours drive from her Rhinebeck home.
Running in a huge, battleground district like NY-19 is expensive. Her campaign raised $400,000 last quarter, including a loan of $100,000 from Cheney herself, on a par with Riley for that period. (The Albany Times-Union recently reported that Cheney’s financial disclosure forms show that, including the farm, real estate and other investments, she is a multimillionaire.)
Cheney says she decided to run for political office partly because as she talked to her three sons (ages 12, 10 and 8) about the problems she saw in the country, they asked, “what are you going to do to change things?” When she campaigns, she tries to take one son along at a time to show them that she’s fighting for a role in deciding their future.
As the daughter of a former deputy mayor of Philadelphia, she understands that her children will make sacrifices if she wins. But she sees this race for public service as an extension of her professional life: finding and quantifying barriers to social and economic progress…and introducing solutions.
For more information, see https://www.jamiecheney.com.