The first campaign I ever worked on was for a little lady named Drew Claxton in 1999. Connie Lobur was my political science professor and mentioned to me that there was a slate of Democrats running in Peekskill for the first time in roughly 20 years.
They were trying to get a toehold on a 7-0 Republican common council that had been that way for almost all of the 1980s and 1990s. Drew was a former student of Connie’s as well, so Connie thought it was a good way to get some experience if I truly wanted to work in campaign politics.
There was a Democratic committee of about 5 people then and they met in a church basement. We got trounced in that election. We had no money, we could barely afford lawn signs, and we didn’t have much of mail program. But at the end of the campaign, we had a Democratic committee of 46 on paper and roughly 35 very active.
Two years later we ran a slate again and Drew Claxton became the first elected Democrat in over twenty years. It was 6-1. Drew was the “lone Democrat” who disrupted the status quo and made sure that even if she didn’t have the votes to pass progressive legislation, couldn’t require a more transparent government, and couldn’t stop the run away tax hikes and poor planning, she certainly was going to shine a bright light on it.
Drew became and remained the North Star of progressives in Peekskill. She forced her colleagues and the county to get serious about stopping a trend of dumping on Peekskill for which she was rightly profiled in the New York Times. She forced the common council to begin televising all meetings: including work sessions, for which the councils previous to hers did not want to.
But perhaps most importantly, Drew inspired a generation of new leadership in Peekskill. I remember when Don Bennett decided he wanted to run for office, he said he wanted to talk to Drew Claxton, because he was impressed with how she ran and broke through the GOP monopoly. He became the 2nd Democrat. From there Mary F Foster was elected as the 3rd Democrat to the common council, and then Patricia Riley, Joe Schuder, Darren Rigger, Andrew Torres, Kathie Talbot, Marybeth J. McGowan, Vivian McKenzie, and Andre Rainey. And now we have Vanessa Agudelo. Ramon Fernandez, and Colin Smith.
To say Drew created a movement would be an understatement. Drew made Peekskill better by forcing a debate of ideas and bringing voice to a large segment of the community who didn’t have a voice in City Hall.
After 16 years on the common council Drew gets to retire knowing that she built a foundation for others to stand on. And no matter what was thrown at her, she persisted, on behalf of all of us, and long before it became a rallying cry. Congratulations Drew Claxton for your years of service. Thank you, for what you have done for Peekskill, and personally, for what you inspired in me some twenty years ago.