WILLSBORO — Now retired, former State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward is reflecting on the 10 years she spent representing the region in Albany.
She shut the door on her political career at the end of 2012, and her 113th District has been renumbered to the 114th; Daniel Stec (R-Queensbury) was elected to replace her and took the seat on Jan. 1.
Sayward was a dairy farmer with her husband, Kenneth, for 16 years, until 1988, when they sold their farm. She also worked as a real-estate agent, an antiques dealer and an interior decorator.
‘GO FOR IT’
She was elected Willsboro town supervisor in 1992, serving for 11 years before running for the State Assembly.
Sayward became a member of the Assembly in 2002, replacing Betty Little (R-Queensbury), who successfully ran for a State Senate seat.
“I knew Betty was looking to run for the Senate,” Sayward said. “I called her and said, ‘I’m going to run for your seat.’ She said, ‘Go for it.’
“It was a tumultuous campaign.”
In a six-way contest, Sayward triumphed with 52 percent of the vote.
There was a lot of hard work ahead of her, she said.
“The district was the largest in the state, almost 5,000 square miles. I got into every school, most businesses. I went to every pig roast and party I was invited to. That was important. You don’t know what people are thinking and what the issues are unless you get out and talk to them. I spent a lot of time on the road.”
She said she put more than 200,000 miles on the car she was driving when first elected and wore out two more
vehicles after that.
“I took good care of my cars because they had to run. I had to be on the road.”
Since Sayward was in the minority, she got a well-worn office for her first term, she said, and after several requests that her office be painted, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
“We showed up with paint and wearing old clothes on a weekend,” she said. “We were walking through the halls when we were challenged by security. They thought we were breaking into the state capitol. I had to show my ID.”
She also had to show police that all materials were removed after the painting was completed, she said, because to leave them there was deemed a security risk.
“That was one of the funniest things that happened to me while I was in office.”
Now that she’s been relaxing for awhile, Sayward said she’s had a chance to think over what the job meant to her.
“I miss the people, the job itself, but the politics gets in the way of good government. And the politics is always there. You have to deal with it.”
She was in the Republican minority in the Assembly, which made it even more difficult to pass legislation, she said.
Her district included all of Warren and Hamilton counties; Essex County except for one town, St. Armand; and the Adirondack Park towns in northern Saratoga County.
“My whole district was in the Adirondack Park. I was the only person serving in the North Country who lived in the park. My passion has always been Adirondack issues and still is.”
While in the Assembly, she formed the Adirondack Caucus with Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru).
“Janet Duprey and I brought a contingent of legislators to Newcomb, and we stayed at the SUNY ESF (College of Environmental Science and Forestry) campus. We took them to Blue Mountain Lake, we showed them sustainable forestry at ESF, bio-fuels.”
Sayward said efforts like that helped her gain support for Adirondack Park issues from Assembly members who ordinarily wouldn’t know what those were.
“It’s essential to make sure you reach out and let folks understand and (that you) explain your issues. A lot of New York City and Long Island issues, I was eager to learn about. When you support the issues that are important to them, you can count on them to support you.
“That’s how you get things done when you’re in the minority,” she continued. “If you don’t work with them (the majority) you can get locked out.”
Sayward supported then-Gov. David Paterson’s 2009 proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in New York and gave an emotional speech on the floor of the Assembly that helped pass the bill.
Her elder son, Glenn, is gay, and Sayward said she views gay marriage as a civil-rights issue.
“The one accomplishment of mine that stands out is the gay-marriage bill. I was the first Republican to sign on for that bill. It took three votes in the Assembly before we could get it passed in the Senate.”
She worked with Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) on the Invasive Species Management Bill that became law. The legislation requires the State Department of Environmental Conservation to restrict the sale, purchase, possession, importation and transport of invasive species.
“Assemblyman Sweeney sponsored it and has been a close ally of mine,” she said.
“He worked with me on the two constitutional amendments we got passed: one in Hamilton County and one for NYCO Minerals in Willsboro.”
The one in Hamilton County resolves a 100-year-old property ownership issue with the state and private landowners near Raquette Lake, while the other allows ore extraction on a 200-acre parcel of state land.
The amendments will have to be introduced again this year.
“I’m going to be following them closely. It’s important for me to see them through. I will be down there working on that.”
Sayward said she’s satisfied with her work in office.
“We passed a lot of good legislation, domestic-violence legislation and legislation to protect women’s rights.”
The other aspect of serving in the Assembly is aiding constituents, she said.
“For me, the most important job you do is helping the people back home in your district wade through the minutia of New York state government.”
She said people had problems with state agencies like the Department of Health, Department of Labor and Social Services.
“On a daily basis, people were struggling. We were able to do a lot of that work. It was vitally important for the people I represented.”
Essex County Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) praised Sayward.
“She worked so diligently on our needs these last 10 years.”
Sayward said she left office feeling that she did the best job possible.
“I feel I accomplished a lot while I was in office.”
Now, she said, she’ll travel, see the national parks and Europe and work on her home garden.
“I’m going to spend more time with my children and grandchildren and my husband. And I’ll volunteer my time to help on Adirondack issues.”
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