WESTCHESTER, N.Y. - Sandy Galef is a 20-year incumbent Assembly member (D, I-Ossining) running in the 95th Assembly District against challenger Kim Izzarelli (R,C- Briarcliff). If she is re-elected, she will serve her 11th term in office.
The 72-year-old mother of two and grandmother of three, has been a public servant since she was 40. She served more than 13 years as a Westchester County legislator. Prior to her time as a public servant, she was a teacher in Scarsdale.
The 95th Assembly District covers the western portions of Putnam County, and the northwestern parts of Westchester County, from Cortlandt and Peekskill south to the Town of Ossining.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Jessica Glenza: What are the three biggest issues facing your district?
Sandy Galef: Well, taxes are the biggest, no question about that. Jobs/the economy, and I'd say things that fit into health and safety.
How do you plan to address those issues?
We did a lot this past year in the area of lowering the cost for people of their taxes. We have much more to do. But we cut the state income tax for the first time in 58 years, which is significant. We cut back on the cost of state government by consolidating agencies, downsizing the number of employees, eliminating, cutting back on employees' contracts.
We also, this year, increased aid to our schools about $805 billion, which helps taxpayers. We haven't had an increase in a little while so this was an increase that schools could use to hold the line on taxes. And we cut the 4 percent sales tax on clothing and shoes and that impacts a lot of sales and a lot of families.
We rolled back the majority of the MTA payroll tax for all schools, non-profits and small businesses. We have more to do in that area.
The biggest thing I think we did in the last two years was put the property tax cap in place of 2 percent and that is very significant.
The state stayed within the 2-percent property tax cap with our spending and we're asking others to do the same.
The boat safety issue -- one accident is too many, but we've had so many more than that. New Jersey and Connecticut have regulations that you have to take a boat safety course before you go out in your new boat, or your old boat or somebody else's boat, and what I'm trying to do is get that same regulation here in New York.
What are your biggest achievements?
I would say the largest is changing the state constitution. I changed it to have it to be gender neutral. It had to go out for vote to the public and that was in 2001. The constitution was all about men -- there was not a woman reference at all -- and we changed it.
I actually have another new constitutional amendment that hopefully will come along next year, the independent redistricting commission. I have had a bill for a long time that ensures we have an independent commission that draws these lines. The bill that will be going out for the public to vote on next year is not my bill, it's the governor's bill, but if that gets done it will be create monumental changes for how these election districts get done and the makeup of the legislature.
The other one I have, we passed it this year, hopefully it will pass next year, says all the legislators have to have the bills on their desks for three days in paper, and we're not a paper age anymore. This constitutional amendment would say we could use computers and things like that, which could save a lot of money and a lot of personnel.
What would you do to lower Westchester's high tax burden?
I'm going to continue to work on how this tax cap is working. For negotiation purposes, I'd like to see regional negotiations between our school districts.
School tax is the biggest one so a lot of focus is there. I'd like to see us use BOCES more to do some of the back office work for the schools.
With our courts system, I'm going to continue to work on our shared services. We had a bill that passed two years ago that combined the village and town court systems to save money and to get better court services.
We probably need to do that in Cortlandt; we have a Buchanan court, a Croton court and a town court. I really think there has to be sharing of services. If we want to lower the cost of our property taxes, we have to be willing to say 'yes' to these kinds of changes. Because that's why other states come in with lower property taxes. They have countywide school districts; they do a lot of things on a regional basis, whereas we are very parochial. We have all these villages, towns, cities and counties and that's overburdening us with taxes.
Why should people vote for you?
I've served the public very well over the years I've been full time. I am in the majority party, which is very important to get things done in the Assembly for the district. I think I've always been honest with the public. I've been outspoken on issues.
I was just thinking about nutrition in our schools, and I was out there maybe nine years ago in nutrition in our schools, and you know what's happening? This school nutrition thing is just blossoming. So, I think in many cases, I'm ahead of the curve.
Government doesn't work overnight. It's really not a business. It's like convincing so many people to vote a certain way, but the public they represent also has to believe it. I think my approach to government, and this is partly because I'm an educator I guess, I have a lot of town meetings; I try to bring heads of state down to my district so people have an opportunity to meet and discuss things.
I'm always there, very responsive, I listen to people, totally listen to people, I think I've served them well and hope to continue for another two years.