INTERVIEW: Assemblywoman Michele Titus
What inspired you to get into politics?
Assemblywoman Titus: After law school, I started working for a local State Senator, and after working for her for maybe six months, I took a job as the Executive Director for the New York State Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus, which is comprised of all the legislators of color throughout the State of New York. And I believe working in that role and seeing what was going on in different parts of the state and working for great people like Arthur Eve from Buffalo, just working with a lot of these legislators and seeing how they were able to create policy and really effectuate change in their communities really inspired me to jump in the ring and do it for my community.
Thank you so much for signing onto the Safe & Supportive Schools Act as a co-sponsor! Tell me a little bit about why this legislation is so important to you.
Assemblywoman Titus: Education in general and education law really is something near and dear to my heart. Prior to being an Assemblyperson, I worked for the New York City Board of Education as an attorney, working with education law. I worked on, when I worked at the Board of Ed, the whole removal of when children are in fact suspended, that we’re not just leaving them out to stay home [and] that we’re actually creating some sort of mechanism so that they are still in school and still being educated in just a different environment. So the Safe and Supportive Schools Act is really saying that we are not going to suspend our young people, third graders. I really believe that there should be some other mechanism - we are the adults, we need to really nurture our children. When they walk into that school building they should feel safe, and I think that this act is really taking a drastic step forward in making sure that we’re correcting a lot of the antiquated norms that we have in our school system that really hold our children back and they end up [in] a pipeline to the prison, the school-to-prison pipeline. I think that we need to offer more opportunities for our children to know that we’re here to help them and we’re here to be their partner in making them a better person.
What are your biggest legislative priorities for 2018?
Assemblywoman Titus: For this year, we’re basically coming off of a high with so many accomplishments so far. In the Assembly, I chair the Labor Committee and it’s taken a long time, but we have been successful in raising the minimum wage [and] finally implementing a paid family leave system here in the State of New York. I think moving forward with the new project, in particular, that the governor is about to invest over $10 billion in the redevelopment of JFK Airport. My focus right now is to make sure that there are training programs [and] apprenticeship programs in place so that our young people have that pathway to a job. There’s thousands of jobs at the airport which is right next door to us, and what I’m working on as we speak in this budget is to secure funding for training programs that lead to various airport jobs, from flying the plane, from opening up businesses, management - down the whole line. I believe that we need to really invest in making sure that that investment of $10 billion trickles back down and captures our people, that live right by the airport and are suffering by the airport, that we get this.
Some people have said that they don’t see you a lot in the community, whether it’s community meetings or just various events. As an elected official, how do you balance being present in your district with being in Albany fighting for your district?
Assemblywoman Titus: I think it really gets to me when people say ‘oh, we don’t see you’, because my family will disagree, my family will say the same thing, like, ‘Mom, we don’t see you, you’re always out and about at some meeting.’ I think, unfortunately, a lot of our civic meetings take place Monday through Thursday, not Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So unfortunately, I am in Albany when a lot of the meetings take place. I do, though, make sure that I have my staff represented at these meetings that bring back the information. When I am not in session, I do take the time to make sure that I reach out to my various civic presidents, TA [tenant association] presidents. I’m regularly in contact with all my community board, really making sure that if there’s any issue, that we are on top of it and addressing [it]. So I try to make sure that I have that presence. When I’m invited to an event, I’m there front and center, and I hope that they attest that when I come to a meeting, I’m not just there for five minutes, in and out, I’m there for the entirety of the meeting. I’ll stay afterwards to speak to people, because I know that there are gonna be times when I’m not available and I’m not going to be in the neighborhood to attend a meeting.
There’s a lot of changes happening in Rockaway right now. What are you most excited about with those changes and do you have any concerns about those changes?
Assemblywoman Titus: I see a real, true renaissance going on in the Rockaways. We have a lot of homes coming online, a lot of new buildings coming online, the boardwalk, there’s a lot of restaurants - everything; it’s like a whole new renaissance. So I just wanna make sure that as we are going through this beautiful renaissance in the Rockaways that the people that I represent and have represented for over a decade are also all moving forward together and no one is being left behind. If they’re building homes, our community residents should be the first people to be those homeowners of the new homes that are being built. If we are bringing more jobs on to the peninsula, let’s make sure that the Rockaway residents are the first people that are hired for those jobs. The main thing [is] that as we see all these new improvements that are happening in Rockaway, that we are making sure that nobody’s left behind, and as we grow, we all grow together.