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Progressive ‘Piss and Vinegar’ Takes On Albany

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It’s a new day in Albany. Democrats finally have full control of the legislature; rising stars like Alessandra Biaggi and Julia Salazar are injecting the state capital with much-needed progressive energy; and the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group that for decades stymied progressive legislation by caucusing with the Republicans, has finally been neutered. Of its members, only Senators David Carlucci and Diane Savino survived the last election cycle, and even they have rejoined the true-blue fold. Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins became the Senate Majority Leader, and has since been working closely with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to transform bills that passed the Assembly year after year, only to languish in the Senate, into laws.

Spend a few days in Albany, and you can tell right away that the energy has changed. The marble halls of the Legislative Office Building are adorned with blue-and-white signs illustrated with a gender-neutral parent figure cradling an infant. They list ten nursing and baby changing facilities and explain where to find refrigerated storage, presumably for breast milk or formula (the facilities have existed since 2008; the practice of breastfeeding on the floor of the Assembly has not). A “pbd kitchen” sandwich board in the food court advertised “cutting edge, chef inspired, natural” sandwiches underneath an all-caps demand: “HOUSING JUSTICE FOR ALL.”

“I’m wearing fuchsia,” Assembly member Nily Rozic texted on her way to meet me. Minutes later, a tall woman wearing a fuchsia jacket over a black dress, patterned tights, and long black boots appeared. Her long brown hair was pulled up in a youthful ponytail; she greeted me, and told me to follow her. Twenty-six when she was first elected in 2012, Rozic was then the youngest woman in the New York State legislature; a decade ago, there were just ten legislators under 35 in the legislature and three female legislators under 40, while today, there are 28 legislators under 35 and 18 female legislators under 40. Rozic is in her element; Albany is finally catching up to her.

Rozic still stands out, though, and not just due to her love of bold colors. Just over 67 percent of New York State legislators are men, most of whom wear unflashy suits and muted ties. Rozic, who is of Argentinian descent, was born in Israel and belongs to the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. After seven years in Albany, she’s totally at ease engaging in rapid-fire exchanges with colleagues and lobbyists while striding through the halls of the capitol. “I respectfully decline,” she told a particularly aggressive supplicant, who was trying to get her to sign a letter, firm but smiling.

“I can’t do this right now,” she crisply told another, making eye contact without breaking stride. “She’s a reporter, not my staffer,” she corrected a man who tried to hand me information about a bill he wanted her to consider.

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