Regardless of what happens on Thursday, Sept. 13, Alessandra Biaggi already has shattered barriers.
Fighting to restore the public’s fractured faith in government is a primary challenger pouring the full force of her unrelenting energy into what some say is a heroic grassroots push to regain control of the state senate that, for far too long, has remained in Republican control.
Biaggi is an attorney, activist, graduate of New York University and Fordham law school, granddaughter of former U.S. Rep. Mario Biaggi, born in Mount Vernon, and raised in Pelham. She describes herself as “an Italian-American woman who comes from many generations of very hard work,” whose commitment to public service was instilled from an early age from spirited political discourse around the family dinner table — in Riverdale at the time — that has become ground zero for her campaign to win a state senate seat.
“We talked about all kinds of things,” Biaggi said, “but it was never discouraged to talk about politics. And really, at the root of that, was service.”
Since graduating from Fordham, Biaggi has notched what she describes as a decade of advocacy work and national leadership roles, including fighting for affordable housing as a legal fellow for the state’s Homes and Community Renewal agency. From there, she committed to helping small businesses and communities rebuild after Hurricane Sandy as assistant general counsel in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s storm recovery office.
But it was working as deputy national operations director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential run Biaggi says allowed her to really be in the trenches, of a major political campaign, to “build the plane while we were flying it,” all while managing a budget of $500 million, and overseeing 38 state directors — despite having no experience in operations.
“If given the opportunity, you rise to the occasion,” Biaggi said. “Especially if you’re surrounded by people who are hard workers, go-getters, who are competent.”
The experience proved transformative.
“It was really one of the most foundational experiences of my entire career because you are moving at a pace that requires you to triage everything that’s happening,” Biaggi said. “You have to be able to very quickly understand what issues are most important, most pressing, and how to deal with that.”
All of which probably primed Biaggi to take on an entrenched incumbent in a heated primary battle for the job of tending to the far-ranging needs of a sprawling state senate district.
Her biggest political focus? Women’s issues, which Biaggi says “touches all of the issues.”
Crucial among those is fighting for a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion.
“It means that women in New York State will be safe when the federal government rolls back protections on Roe v. Wade,” Biaggi said.
Also key: Making sure women are paid an equal wage.
“It’s almost ridiculous to even have to say that,” Biaggi said. “We are doing the same labor. Why are we not being paid the same wage?”
And ensuring women feel safe in the workplace.
“Where that starts is in our government,” Biaggi said, which needs to enact “strong laws to set the example for the rest of the states to follow. We can do so much better, and we must.”
That means involving women when it comes to crafting legislation cracking down on sexual harassment.
“We have got to have women at the table making these decisions,” Biaggi said. “It cannot just be men, because these are issues that affect women.”
But bringing more women into the fray can’t happen without engaging them — which starts with the vote. “Making sure that we encourage women to come off of the sidelines,” Biaggi said. “We have got to get more women into government.”
And, once they’re in, ensuring they stay — and excel — even after they have children, Biaggi said, which is why she’s also focusing on affordable childcare.
“Only 20 percent of childcare needs are met in New York State,” Biaggi said. “This is one of the reasons why women leave the work force.”
Unfortunately, the state also suffers from massive income inequality, Biaggi said — another malady she’d like to fix.
“As I go around District 34, there isn’t a household that I knock a door on where both parents don’t work,” Biaggi said. “We have double-income households” not because people choose to, but because “it’s required. The cost of living has gone up,” along with health care and education.
Protecting women in the workplace, Biaggi said, also requires ensuring a flexible work schedule.
“We all know that the 9-to-5 work schedule has benefited men predominantly,” Biaggi said, usually requiring one spouse to stay home. “Families can’t afford to do that anymore. Our standard work days are changing,” which also affects how people travel around the city, and even how they get paid.
“Looking at a lot of these issues from the lens of how they affect women is truly central to the reason why I am running,” Biaggi said. “We’ve got to get this right.”
It starts by electing women leaders “who will not take ‘no’ for an answer,” she said, “who will hold our leaders accountable to make sure that everybody is on equal footing and that women are treated appropriately.”
And the time is now.
“We are in a politically unprecedented time where we have never been more divided,” Biaggi said. “The most important thing that will bring us back to the center is that we need to be in community with each other. We need to break bread with each other.”