We lost two public servants Sunday morning, two people whose modest demeanor and untiring efforts earned them the trust of their constituents and the admiration of their peers.
Judy Kennedy, mayor of the City of Newburgh, died at Kaplan Family Hospice after a long illness. State Assemblyman Frank Skartados died at St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital only a few days after the public had learned about his illness.
What the two had in common besides an overlapping constituency in Newburgh was the dedication to public service and the history of having to fight to keep their jobs. Skartados first won, then lost, then won again a seat in the Assembly. Kennedy won one term, lost a primary election, then came back to win a second term.
Comebacks are rare in local politics and in both of their successful campaigns, they were able to appeal beyond the usual political circles and reach deep into the population where people responded with their votes in gratitude for the work and the examples that the two set.
Skartados, born in Greece, came to the United States when he was 14 and, as a fellow Democrat noted, “worked to pay his way through school, built a business, and won election to represent his neighbors in the State House. If that’s not the American Dream, I don’t know what is,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of Cold Spring.
Kennedy first came to Newburgh to visit her son and later returned with the notion that her business experience would be useful to a city that faced so many challenges. She was right about the challenges and she was right about the notion that she could help.
As many who know her have been quick to say, she understood that the diversity that posed so many challenges to the city was also the source of its strength. She never tired of bringing together diverse groups of people, those who might not otherwise meet, to show them that what they had in common was more important than their differences.
As a member of the Assembly, Skartados worked in a variety of communities, making sure that those who needed help from the state government would get it. Or, perhaps just as important, those who needed the state government to get out of the way would find their path cleared of obstacles. He was a courtly island of calm in the middle of many a contentious debate.
As mayor of Newburgh, Kennedy did not seek out controversy. It came to her and she made it her job to identify the forces that so often were the source of clashes and direct them instead toward solutions.
Even as she was nearing the end of her life, she was looking ahead and made it a point to record a message at her Townsend Avenue home that serves as her legacy, as a guideline for those who will follow and as a lesson that should radiate well beyond the city limits.
“Find a way to cooperate with each other and keep going, because that’s how we’re going to get there,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got to help each other rise together.”