Source: Westchester Magazine
Sitting next to New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins in her district office in Yonkers, a labyrinthine setup perched on the undulating and dangerously potholed streets of the city’s waterfront, it’s hard to quash my low-grade anxiety.
To be sure, the senator is preternaturally accessible, with a reputation in Albany as much for amiability as some of her fellow pols have for viciousness. Seated under one of the dozens of plaques that cover all four of the yellow-washed walls of her office, the 64-year-old is relaxed but alert, good-humored in a no-nonsense sort of way. Her grin is wide and her laugh easy, but they belie toughness. Between questions, she keeps her gaze on me, looking pleasantly amused, like the mother of a precocious child watching her progeny make a mess of the sandbox. I suddenly find myself distracted by my poor posture and tug a sleeve’s edge over my exposed tattoo.
The senator’s ability to rise above the muck has, over four decades, propelled her from teen mother in the Bronx projects up through the private sector at a time when women (let alone black women) had very limited options, then up through city and county government to where she is now, halfway through her eighth year in the State Senate and the first woman to lead a conference in the State of New York. Neither puerile nor bombastic, the senator can smile and be downright cordial, even as she drops a shoulder and plows into whatever issue she believes is right. And that may be her greatest strength. She has a history of simply not standing for it. It hasn’t always been a fair fight, certainly not an easy one, and, even now, Stewart-Cousins faces the greatest challenge of her career: uniting a conference divided against itself.