Congresswoman Nan Hayworth's recent day in the Warwick Valley began on Thurs., May 24 at 8:30 a.m. at Town Hall for a meeting with legislators, local farmers, and agricultural groups including the NYS Farm Bureau and Cornell Cooperative Extension. Before the meeting began, Hayworth explained to this reporter how she splits her time between the 19th Congressional District (which includes Putnam County and parts of Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, and Westchester Counties) and Washington, DC. She said she has to "make sure the interests of our farmers, our small businesses, and our constituents are represented."
Farmers Raise Pressing Issues
Hayworth began the Agricultural Issues Advisory Committee meeting by stating "this is an enormously important place" and "I'm here to make sure that our farmers are well-represented." She cited "an increasing appreciation of having a local food supply" as motivating some legislative action in the House of Representatives. Hayworth referenced the copies of letters her staff had handed out which she had either sent or signed onto in the past year to address the issues of crop insurance reform, recovery from Hurricane Irene, the Wetlands Reserve Program, and seasonal labor. She mentioned that legislative progress in Washington can be "relatively rapid" or "excruciatingly slow."
Warwick dairy farmer Al Buckbee informed the Congresswoman that "the dairy market in the last three or four months has collapsed" and "at the moment the price [of milk] is going down." Pine Island farmer Leonard DeBuck said "we need leadership to speak up" and change the Federal Milk Marketing Order, saying "this program is broken." Hayworth had the idea of starting a legislative interest group for small farms, describing the long road to initiating new legislation. The issue, she said, is how to preserve small dairy farms when "big ag" has a louder voice. Another Warwick dairy farmer, Skip Buckbee, proposed completely eliminating federal regulation of small dairy farms and introducing local control.
Another issue of concern to the assembled farmers was the Wetlands Reserve Program, a federal and voluntary initiative which restores wetlands (like Pine Island's black dirt) to their natural state. Hayworth noted the high value of this land due to its potential for high-yield produce farming and said she "would like the entirety of the black dirt exempted from this program," later saying "it makes no sense for Pine Island." She was also asked to support public funding for crop research, crop insurance, and seasonal labor reform. The produce farmers present at the meeting emphasized that they need a legal labor force, which often comes from Mexico, and they feel that this issue has become caught up in the larger issue of immigration reform.
After the meeting Hayworth touted the coming-together she and her staff arranged in the fall to address the "urgent issue" of draining the black dirt area after Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene, which included the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Army Corps. of Engineers, and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). She believes drainage continues to be an issue, "crop insurance and labor issues are very pressing as well." She believes that small farms "should not be harmed by the federal government," conceding that many of the programs currently in place "do inherently advantage" larger farms.
Congresswoman Tours Downtown Warwick
The next stop on Hayworth's day in the Valley was the Village of Warwick, beginning at the Warwick Valley Chamber of Commerce's caboose on South St. In greeting Michael Johndrow, the Chamber's Executive Director, she mentioned that she's been in Warwick "every weekend for the last several weeks," for events such as St. Stephen's Taste of the Town, the Empty Bowls fundraiser, the Warwick Little League season opening, and a book signing at the Albert Wisner Public Library. Johndrow introduced a number of the Chamber's tourism initiatives, including an electronic kiosk to collect cell phone numbers in an effort to promote events that may be of interest to visitors and residents alike. He explained how the merchants have pooled funds to promote awareness of the Warwick Valley, with the goal of "mak[ing] it a four-season destination." Johndrow was joined by Village of Warwick Trustee Eileen Patterson, who mentioned that Hayworth helped in Warwick's recent and successful effort to become New York State's first Appalachian Trail Community.
Johndrow then led Hayworth and her staff on a walking tour of Railroad Ave. and Main St., beginning at Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty. There the Congresswoman discussed the challenges of real estate with Branch Manager Cecilia Umhey, noting "there's an ebb and flow." At La Petite Cuisine owner Jennifer Haesche implored Hayworth to "look out for small businesses--we need your help." Haesche told her how she has lived in Warwick for seven years and owned the restaurant for two years, calling it her "American dream." Hayworth told her that she believes excessive taxes and regulations are putting a strain on small businesses and Haesche agreed, saying, "you have my vote."
Next, at the Eclectic Eye antique shop, Hayworth spoke with owner George Laurence, explaining that "small businesses are more vulnerable to regulation." On Main St., the Congresswoman spoke with Frazzleberries owner and Merchants' Guild co-chair Mary-Beth Schlichting as well as Style Counsel and "blue" co-owner Tim Mullaly about Warwick Valley tourism and Merchants' Guild events. "I want the motor coaches, I want the welcome center," said Schlichting, "we want to keep the beauty and let people know about it." As she showed Hayworth around the Frazzleberries store the two discussed history and national politics, and Schlichting mentioned that Orange County tourism initiatives are aimed at West Point and the Woodbury Commons outlets, the latter of which brings in millions of dollars in sales tax for the County every year. Johndrow told Hayworth about the Chamber's current "experiment" in marketing the Warwick Valley as being for more than Applefest and showing Warwick's tourism potential.
Hayworth also stopped in Eddie's Roadhouse to speak with Eddie about craft beers, admired a crochet dress in the window of Style Counsel, and peeked in Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe (telling owner Tom Roberts that she's "a card-carrying bibliophile"). Among the people Hayworth introduced herself to and shook hands with while walking up Main St. was Yesterdays owner John Christison, who told her "you have my support." "You have mine," she replied. The Congresswoman also took a look inside Newhard's before visiting Warwick Valley Telephone (WVT), where she met WVT President Virginia Quackenbush. Quackenbush discussed WVT's origins and recent expansions, which prompted Hayworth to enthuse "there's a great history here--there's a multi-generational foundation." Finally, Hayworth stopped into Peck's Wines and Spirits to say hello to co-owners Bill Iurato and his wife Debbie, who currently serves as the other Merchants' Guild co-chair.
Being a Congresswoman is "a Calling'
After touring the Village of Warwick, Hayworth and her staff traveled to the WTBQ studio on Ronald Reagan Boulevard. Hayworth invited this reporter into her chauffeured Chevrolet Tahoe for an interview before her commitment with The Steve Neuhaus Show. She described how her "work traverses a district--constituents who we care for in a number of ways," such as outreach and job fairs. "When I'm in Washington," she said, "I'm dealing with policy and legislation" that are determined by cooperation with other legislators, but on the local level she's concerned about "broad-based economic recovery and growth," without which she believes her district faces an "existential threat to our future." She favors a "federal government that helps us, and doesn't hurt us." She feels that "federal policy can be too invasive."
Striking a more personal tone, Hayworth talked about being a mother and a doctor. She has two sons, aged 19 and 21, "young men with good hearts and good minds." She cited her husband Scott for encouraging her to pursue this "public service opportunity privilege." Nan and Scott met while at Princeton University and attended Cornell University Medical College (now Weill Cornell) in New York City together. She herself was once a small business owner, running her own medical practice for seven years. She then joined a partnership, which she left to raise her teenage sons, while staying involved in public life. In 2007 she was recruited to become medical director at a communications firm in New York City and said she "loved it." She was able to practice skills she uses today like public speaking and networking. She says it "helped me prepare for public service, which I didn't have in mind." She said she increasingly feared that the federal government was growing too large, and as a result her husband encouraged her to run for Congress.
Hayworth said that being a Congresswoman is "a calling," and has been a "remarkable, extraordinary endeavor," in addition to being "a challenge." She commended her staff, her "team," for all the hard work they do and said "this isn't about me, it's about how well I can be of service." "If you're thinking about everybody else, it's amazing what good things will happen I was raised that way." Hayworth grew up in Munster, Indiana and said that "Orange County feels the most like home to me," because of the blending of farms and small villages. She has lived in the Hudson Valley for 23 years. She fondly recalled competing for her high school speech team but doesn't yearn for her younger years. At 52 years old, "I feel empowered by my age." She offered the advice "never stop learning."
The Congresswoman, who is up for re-election in November, said that "there are challenges you can easily imagine" to being a legislator. She says there are parts of legislation she does and doesn't like. Being a legislator is about balance and consensus, it "keeps me on my toes." Though affiliated with the Republican party, she bills herself as a moderate, pointing to having co-founded the Common Ground Caucus, a bipartisan group which seeks to bring Republicans and Democrats together in a social setting.
A WTBQ Interview & Greenwood Lake Senior Center Visit
Next, the Congresswoman took part in her interview with The Steve Neuhaus Show. In it she called her job "busy, exciting always challenging." She talked about student loans and honoring first responders, commended local legislators and officials and also discussed the FEMA response to storms in the last year, her weekend and Memorial Day plans, veterans' issues, farm issues, and small businesses. She said "we owe our veterans the best care we can give them," saying she supports the Veterans Administration system but there is room for improvement.
Finally, Hayworth made her way to the Greenwood Lake Senior Center to speak with about 20 senior citizens, addressing issues like Medicare and Social Security, saying "people like me are doing everything we can to keep those programs going for you." After fielding questions she socialized with the seniors, even stopping to take a shot on the Senior Center's new pool table, donated by the Greenwood Lake Lions Club.
All said, it was a busy day for this reporter, but nothing out of the ordinary for Congresswoman Nan Hayworth. She is a woman of boundless energy and enthusiasm and, as her District Representative (and Warwick resident) Stephanie Sweeton put it, "she tries to find something in common with everyone she meets."