Rebecca Seawright Started Young in Politics
by Joyce M. Short
Rebecca Seawright’s first dive into politics came when the county leader of her 4H group was fired without explanation. The leader was a woman, and there seemed to be antipathy from an old-boy-network that expected women to confine themselves to caring for their families.
Seeing an injustice, the young Seawright was outraged. Her challenge to the establishment, and her efforts to assert that something unjust had taken place, generated a heavy backlash. “People even stopped doing business at [my father’s] store,” she remembers.
That was years ago, in Texas, where Seawright earned her degrees in political science and home economics from Tarleton University.
It was a different time and a different place. Seawright earned 4H awards raising horses, cattle, and hogs. At the state fair, she won a first place in the “clothing division” for a record book that chronicled all the business she’d conducted. Why clothing? “Because the Future Farmers of America didn’t allow women to compete.” So she competed through the Future Homemakers of America.
New York State Assembly
Last month, Seawright was sworn in as the first female State Assembly Member for Roosevelt Island and the rest of the 76th Assembly District. Her past efforts for women’s equality were evidenced by the notables in attendance. Sonia Ossorio, the current President of the New York City and New York State Chapters of the National Organization for Women, who’d sought Seawright out and convinced her to compete for the Assembly seat, was on hand. Also attending was Seawright’s longtime mentor, Sarah Weddington, who, beginning at age 23, successfully argued Roe vs. Wade before the U.S. Supreme Court, establishing abortion rights throughout the nation.
But the celebration of Seawright’s success was gender-neutral. U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, City Controller Scott Stringer, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and several other male dignitaries also attended, including two of the men who opposed Seawright for the Assembly seat, Ed Hartzog and David Menegon.
Dad as Role Model
Growing up on a ranch in Texas, Seawright was the third of four daughters raised by a stay-at-home mom. “My father was my role model,” she told The WIRE. He owned a pharmacy, and Seawright worked at his side on weekends.
Today, she’s clearly a solution-finder. She’ll look you in the eye and grasp your point without needing repetition. Her likely reaction? “How can we fix it?”
Seawright came to New York City to raise funds for Ann Richards’s bid for Governor of Texas. They’d met in 1982, when Richards was in the Texas legislature. Mayor David Dinkins provided the campaign with fundraising support, including a NYC office.
Once here, she enrolled in law school at the City University of New York, where she met and married the love of her life, Jay Hershenson, a native New Yorker who’s currently CUNY’s Senior Vice-Chancellor of University Relations and Secretary of the Board of Trustees.
Seawright has remained here ever since the couple connected, and she beams when describing her two almost-grown children, who were educated in the City’s public schools. “My inspirations for running for office are my children,” she said in her inauguration speech. Her son Bradley now attends SUNY Albany and was recently elected to the student senate. Haley, her daughter, is news editor of her high school newspaper in her sophomore year.
Through the years, Seawright has served as an Assistant District Attorney, an Administrative Law Judge, a member of Community Board 8, and an aide to two Congressmen, including Lloyd Bentsen, who ran for Vice President of the United States. She is no stranger to the “politics” of politics.
Seawright’s legal background suits her role as a member of the Assembly’s Legislative Judiciary Committee, which formulates laws. The first bill she sponsored, if passed, “will immediately stop construction of the Waste Transfer Station at East 91st Street.” Her concerns include “the possibility of smells drifting over the water to Roosevelt Island.”
Seawright’s appointment to the Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee positions her to work on the longstanding question of democracy in governance of Roosevelt Island. At her inauguration, she received rousing support from Islanders in attendance with her announcement, “My office is already drafting legislation to address the governance of Roosevelt Island that takes into account the Governor’s veto of past legislation, while maintaining the principle of increased community representation.”