Congratulations on your recent offer and acceptance of a spot in the Empire State Fellows program! Can you tell us about your current role in the NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA)?
The Empire State Fellows program is a program started by Governor Cuomo to recruit the next generation of talented professionals for careers as New York State (NYS) policy-makers. It is run by the Department of State and they work with all the various offices and agencies to find a placement that fits within your goals and meets the needs of NYS. Based on my work with Center for Urban Community Services and my commitment to equality for all, I was placed in the NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance where I am working to help facilitate a range of the State's most important programs for its low-income residents and to provide leadership, guidance and support to local departments of social services in the administration of those programs. While I will be involved with many projects over my two years as a fellow, currently I have been supporting OTDA's Bureau of Shelter Services in a new process for shelter oversight throughout the state. As part of my assignment, I recently went to Syracuse for the opening of an OTDA-funded shelter facility in partnership with Rescue Mission. This state-of-the-art facility really displays the ways we, as a state, are succeeding in providing support and creating opportunities for our low-income residents.
You were a leader in the passage of the Marriage Equality Act in NYS. From the mundane to the monumental, can you tell us how you were involved and what that meant to you?
I was involved with the passage of the Marriage Equality Act in NYS through my work with Marriage Equality New York (MENY). For a decade, I worked with MENY in various capacities to build awareness and increase support for marriage equality across NYS. For over five years I served as a volunteer who worked my way up the ranks by providing marketing, communications and event management support for the organization. I was a founding member of the Wedding March, which was the largest national march for equal marriage rights in the US with participants, coast to coast. I also served as co-chair of the Board of Directors, before stepping down to become their first staff member and serve as the organization's Executive Director.
While holding the position of Executive Director, my goals were to increase the organization's visibility, reach and budget throughout NYS. To achieve those goals, we developed a chapter program to build what we had in New York City across the state. We worked closely with some regions on developing a local chapter or, in some cases, we created partnerships with regional organizations that had already been doing marriage equality work locally. We were successful in creating six chapters throughout the state and these chapters served as hubs for our community organizing program which identified leaders in the 62 senate districts throughout NYS.
This program worked to educate NYS Senators on why marriage matters to the LGBTQ Community. They also held local district events where volunteers educated the public and enrolled supporters of marriage equality to sign petitions, make phone calls to their senators, and learn about the importance of marriage equality. From this program, we developed Marriage Equality Day where we took supporters from across the state to Albany on an annual basis, so they could speak with their local senators in our state capital on why marriage matters.
After Governor Cuomo was elected in NYS, MENY was asked to join a coalition of national and state organizations that would work with the governor on passing the Marriage Equality Act. The members of this coalition were all long standing legal and advocacy organizations, but MENY was included because we represented the grassroots movement through the development of our statewide advocacy network. This coalition, along with the governor and the people of NYS, won the right to marriage equality when the NYS Senate and Assembly passed the Marriage Equality Act in 2011. Our community celebrated when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law in the same year.
Why did you come back to the School of Public Affairs for an Executive MPA? What did you learn?
While transitioning from the private sector to the Executive Director of a non-profit, I felt there were a lot of crossover skills that really helped me successfully lead our marriage equality campaign. However, in working for the public sector, I felt like there were also some of my skills that could use some fine-tuning. It is like being dropped into the deep end of a pool – you may learn how to swim out in the deep end but your technique might not be as good as it could be.
Baruch's School of Public Affairs offered me the ability to fine-tune these skills through their Executive MPA program. It was appealing to me because it started on the basis that we had significant life experience and skills, so the program was looking to build off of that foundation in creating our next steps. It also utilized a cohort style of learning where I spent two years with the same group of 20 executives; this network of colleagues really has helped as I continue my career in the public sector.
Some of the things I learned in this program are the fundamentals of public service and what it means to have the common good in our society. In regards to the common good, we learned how government, non-profits and the for-profit private sector can all work together toward the common good, but that they also sometimes work against each other with competing interests. Often times, when any of these entities create a solution for a problem, it in turn creates new ramifications along with the benefits, and it is the job of public administrators to look at the entire picture when making decisions. In addition to these large scale ideals, I also learned the importance of using budgets and forecasting in government and non-profits to set the agenda and plan for the future.
I look back on my time at the School of Public Affairs and I know it helped me to become an Empire Fellow in the second largest government within the United States.