After 1 year in State Senate, May finds her voice as upstate advocate

Jan 3, 2020

There was a learning curve for Syracuse area State Senator Rachel May in her first year in office. But she’s been able to figure things out and become a powerful voice for central New York. 

Rachel May was a political neophyte when she won the 53rd Senate District seat that represents Syracuse and surrounding communities. It was part of a blue wave that flipped the Senate from a coalition government led by Republicans, to a Democratic majority. And as she’s learned the state political ropes, she’s found a voice as an upstate advocate in a government led by downstate politicians.

"As the only member of the majority between Albany and Buffalo, I kind of speak for a huge area of upstate New York, that they want to serve as well as they can,” May said.

That means more than half of her downstate colleagues have visited when she’s asked, and she’s been able to insert upstate concerns into state legislation. She said her biggest surprise as a lawmaker was realizing how her background as an educator helps her do her job.

"I spend a huge amount of time both listening and learning about different issues, but also teaching people why we are doing legislation that we’re doing,” May said.

She called the 2019 legislative session monumental. Dozens of pieces of progressive legislation passed that had been bottled up in a Republican-led government for years. She expects budget issues to dominate much of the coming session, but has a couple of items she hopes to move on, including creating a tax credit for individuals caring for an aging family member. Also, going forward, she’ll learn what it’s like to be an incumbent in an election year.

"I haven’t seen how people do that yet, how you do your job and also be applying for your next job simultaneously,” May said. “I’m waiting, trying to figure that out."

May praised Senate leadership for creating an atmosphere where members can sit and discuss issues, noting it’s that kind of dialogue that leads to compromise.

"I’m pretty proud of the way we did democracy in the State Senate this year, and I do think it could be a model for other parts of the government,” May said.