PEEKSKILL, N.Y. – In May, reports surfaced that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had lobbied his former staffer, Pete Harckham, to run for the 40th State Senate District against two-term incumbent, Terrence Murphy, a Republican from Yorktown.
Seven months later, Cuomo, a New Castle resident who happens to be one of Harckham’s most prominent constituents, administered the oath of office to his friend at Peekskill High School.
Harckham’s victory over Murphy, one of eight Republicans who lost their seats in November, gave Democrats control of the New York State Senate for the first time in a decade, The New York Times reported.
In their initial conversation last spring, Harckham, a Democrat from South Salem, had responded, Cuomo said, by telling the governor “something really smart.”
“He said he had to check with his family,” Cuomo told the crowded auditorium.
Harckham, a county legislator for 12 years, stepped down in 2015 to join Cuomo’s administration, serving as assistant director of the Office of Community Renewal. He also had a stint with the Thruway Authority, for which he was director of intergovernmental affairs for the New NY Bridge Project (the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge built alongside the Tappan Zee span).
“I have confidence that in two years, when [Harckham] comes back to the people of the 40th District [for re-election], he will be able to say that the State of New York has done more for the 40th District than it has ever done in the history of the State of New York. Period,” Cuomo said.
With the backing of two Democratic-controlled houses, Cuomo, who won a third term in November, laid out an ambitious agenda for this legislative session.
“We’re going to stand up for women, who have been disrespected by the federal government,” Cuomo said. “We’re going to stand up for the rights of the LGBTQ community, which has been disrespected by this administration. And we’re going to set a tone of unity rather than division.”
Harckham, the governor said, “is going to be in the middle of that crusade and leading that crusade.”
After his swearing-in, the newly minted state senator reiterated his agenda for 2019, which includes passing legislation that tackles the issues of gun safety (Red Flag Bill), family planning (Reproductive Health Act) and child abuse (Child Victims Act).
“Those are going to be moving very quickly,” Harckham said. He also promised “common-sense gun safety, election reform and, for the first time in a long time, a real conversation about universal health care in New York.”
Both Cuomo and Harckham also touched on the issue of immigration. Cuomo said the federal government is “spreading cancer” by using the “old and ugly” strategy of divide and conquer.
Harckham said he would also like his office to set a positive tone.
“Those of us who govern and have been given the opportunity to govern, need to govern humbly,” he said. “I can’t remember when trash talking started passing for governing and legislation, but we need to start changing the tone and that will start today.”
Sitting in the crowd at Peekskill High School were many local elected officials, including Lewisboro Supervisor Peter Parsons. Harckham had a message for these leaders, who are used to working with Republican state senators.
“First and foremost, to my local colleagues in government, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or what the makeup of your towns are, I work for you,” Harckham said. “And I cannot be successful unless all of you are successful. It’s not about me imposing some vision on your municipality. It’s me being a support service to you and what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Cuomo said the people of the Hudson Valley have a “great team” working for them.
“We have Shelley Mayer (Senate District 37) and David Buchwald (Assembly District 93) and Steve Otis (Assembly District 91) and Sandy Galef (Assembly District 95) and Kevin Byrne (Assembly District 94),” Cuomo said. “I’m excited about what they’re going to do together.”