Harriet Cornell was unanimously voted in as chair of the Rockland County Legislature at Thursday’s 2013 reorganization meeting, earning her a ninth consecutive yearlong term.
She was the first woman elected to the position in the county’s history, and the first to be elected more than four years in a row.
“In 2013, we will continue to tackle many challenges. The economic recovery has been painfully slow, and we have already taken a series of major steps to control costs and enhance revenues,” Cornell said Thursday night.
“But even with financial difficulties, county government must never waiver with regard to our legal and moral responsibilities to care for the most vulnerable: children, the growing elderly population, the physically and mentally challenged, and the poor among us.”
Last year’s vice chair, Alden Wolfe, was also unanimously reelected to the same position at Thursday’s meeting, although Wolfe wasn’t in attendance due to a prior family commitment.
Cornell was nominated for the chair position at Thursday’s meeting by Legislator Michael Grant, who spoke about the legislature’s need for a leader, someone that can set an agenda for the upcoming year and foster a sense of cooperation while working toward meeting said agenda.
“It should come as no surprise that Harriet Cornell has one again been chosen as chair of the Rockland County Legislature,” he said. “In a career spanning 29 years, Harriet Cornell has demonstrated a clear and consistent conviction that government can and must play a role in protecting public health, ensuring public safety, instructing vital infrastructure and providing a safety net for our most vulnerable. She believes in a rich, culturally diverse and vibrant Rockland, and government’s role in ensuring its economic vitality.”
His nomination was seconded by Legislator Toney Earl, who said that in her eight previous years as chair, Cornell has led with grace, and talked a bit about her legislative career as a whole.
“As a legislator for over 25 years, she has given a voice to those who have not been heard and reached across all aisles of class, race, age, party to make Rockland a county for all,” he said.
Wolfe was nominated by Legislator Ilan Schoenberger, who spoke about various accomplishments Wolfe has had in the legislature. The nomination was seconded by Grant.
“Most importantly, Alden Wolfe is a decent human being with a keen understanding of the needs of Rocklanders,” Grant said. “He is a man with sharp intellect, a generous heart and a calm and even demeanor. Alden has proven to be an effective and vocal engaged member of this legislature with the important committees that he serves on.”
During her speech, Cornell thanked various department heads and elected officials in attendance for their work. She also praised the job done by all county workers.
“You work long hours with little recognition,” she said of county employees. “You keep our residents safe in time of greatest need and support them year-round. In my estimation, that makes you heroes.”
Cornell also said she was pleased the legislature voted late last year against getting rid of about 70 county employees, as called for in the proposed budget.
“I am proud that a majority of the legislature refused to lay off 70 more people as the county executive’s budget required,” she said. “We had already taken the workforce to the bone through attrition, layoffs and early retirements.”
Perhaps the biggest issue facing the legislature this year, however, is the deficit, Cornell said.
“I am determined to eliminate the deficit which is an albatross around our necks,” she said. “We have a well thought-out, well-developed plan, thanks to my colleagues led by Legislators Schoenberger and Grant, and the pro bono deficit reduction team I put together. It was passed by the [New York State] Assembly in 2012 but the [New York] State Senate did not act to help us. We will again seek home rule authority to bond and eliminate the deficit.”
Cornell opened and closed her speech talking about the future of Rockland County, mainly, the county’s children. She spoke about the importance of parents and teachers in the development of children.
“We are shaped in large part by our families, by the people who raised us, nurtured us and set us off on our journey through life,” Cornell said. “But we are also shaped by those who made it their life’s mission to influence and enhance the lives of children: teachers. Who among us does not remember the special teachers who sparked our imaginations through books, taught us how to diagram a sentence or gave us the confidence necessary to succeed at whatever task was at hand?”
She brought education back at the end of her speech, as well, closing with a quote from Nelson Mandela:
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”