By Morgan Wright
New York City, New York
Hudson Valley resident and small business owner, Jamie Cheney, is running for New York State Senate in the 43rd District. As the daughter of a veteran, Cheney comes from a family with a strong emphasis on public service, and devoting time to making her community a better place. Cheney attended Yale University where she graduated with a double major in Political Science and Economics. She went on to obtain a MBA from Harvard Business School. She is on the board of the Yale Alumni Fund.
Cheney has a background in marketing. She is a Founding Partner at Prokanga, a recruiting firm, where she focuses on creating flexible roles for parents in the workforce. Since 2019, she has been a member of the Leadership Council of the National Small Business Association. Currently, she runs a beef farm called Falcon’s Fields, in the Hudson Valley, where she lives with her husband and three children.
The unique multitude of Cheney’s background, from mother to farmer to businesswoman to politician, makes her all the more equipped to serve a community of diverse occupations and lives.
The Iris: How did your education shape the vision of your future? After graduating, what field did you enter? Did you think you would become a politician at one point?
Jamie Cheney: Early in my freshman year I had decided I was going to major in political science. What I realized a year or two into my political science major was that nothing happened without the impact of economics, whether that was quite literally gold in medieval times, or the political impact of the great depression. The economy and politics are not separated. So I added a second major in economics because I felt that to understand one, I had to understand the other. That really shaped my undergraduate experience.
After college, I went and worked in affordable housing financing, so very specifically I worked in the Tax-Exempt Bond Program. That has shaped almost everything I’ve done since. The Tax-Exempt Bond Program is an aspect of the Community Reinvestment Act that effectively created a series of incentives that ultimately got financial institutions to invest in affordable housing in areas where they had branches; it provided capital for affordable housing in urban areas across the U.S that wasn’t just a straight outlay from the government. It’s a great example of a public-private partnership. The way that this program works specifically, unlike previous iterations of affordable housing in the U.S., private developers use the bonds to build the housing. The reality is that the private sector, in this case, got it done faster and built a better product that was better for people to live in. So we rolled out more units of affordable housing faster than earlier iterations of affordable housing done in the U.S. Almost everything I’ve worked on since then has been inspired by seeing how well that program worked. This has definitely inspired everything I’ve done, whether it’s working on something like food insecurity and thinking about if there’s a way we incentivize supermarkets to go into food deserts in our states, or how we look at childcare. How we can think creatively and how we can pull the public and private sectors together. That has really been the theme of my career and how I approach problems politically. That’s definitely the approach that I go in with.
TI: What inspired you to launch Prokanga?
JC: Through having young children in the workforce, I would see colleagues around me choose to leave. And these would be people who had really invested in their careers, and the companies had invested in them. Companies had probably invested millions of dollars in training these women, but all of the sudden they had one or two young children, and it just didn’t work and they would leave. Frankly, for my colleagues in the more creative industries, like marketing, it wasn’t that big of a deal to leave, because they could freelance so easily. It wasn’t like they were jumping off and walking away from everything. Whereas colleagues I knew in the financial services industry were walking away and didn’t feel like they had a choice. There wasn’t any halfway step within the financial services industry. I felt like there was a huge demand for that, both mothers wanted it, but also companies. I launched it in that space during my maternity leave with my third child. I was really seeing an absolute gap in the financial services industry to employ women, or really anyone, anyway other than the traditional full-time role.
TI: What inspired you to run for State Senate?
JC: I worked on this campaign in 2020. I got to know the candidate who currently represents me and my family and this district, and frankly, she doesn’t stand for what I believe in. I think that it’s very easy in New York state to feel like there are these big tides of politics sweeping the rest of the country, but here we are in New York state and it’s not happening here and those aren’t my representatives. Honestly, until I wasn’t really close to the race I probably didn’t realize that this was exactly where my representative stood. As I got more serious and was encouraged by the people on my county committee to run and then really dug into the work that she had done as a legislator, I realized that she didn’t stand for what I believed in. But, the primary job of a state senator is to bring all of those tax dollars in New York state back to their district. So a very good senator brings resources back to their area, and she brings a disproportionately smaller percentage of resources back. To me, her single job is to go and fight and bring resources back to this district, and this district is struggling in many ways. To see that both ideologically I don’t feel that she does not stand for or represent my family and this district, but then also she wasn’t known as someone who fought particularly hard for this district. It got me angry as a mom and someone who is raising my kids in this area.
TI: What has your campaign process been like? When did it start? How has COVID affected it and how have you been able to adapt?
JC: I’ve run a fairly long campaign. We launched in April of last year, a good 18 months before the race. That was because I really wanted to separate the fundraising stage and voter outreach stage. I felt that we could run a better campaign if we raised most of our money in 2021. It’s been a long process. We’ve had a great team on the ground since last June. We brought a team here from the Buttigieg campaign, and they’re incredible. We launched in Covid, a virtual launch. Then we had this great summer of normalness, had all these events lined up, and then it all came crashing down in early September. I don’t think we’ve done in-person events for the campaign since the fall. There are parts of campaigning in Covid that have been really hard. It’s really hard to make a direct or meaningful connection with people over Zoom. That said, our team definitely works more efficiently in the hybrid model. I think we’ve learned to use it [Zoom] as a tool. A big part of any campaign is something called call time where you’re on the phone with your fundraiser and you’re dialing through names. That is something that totally lends itself to Zoom. I think it’s a tool that will never go away, it’s made us much more nimble.
TI: What are the key issues you will be addressing and why are they important to you and your district?
JC: The key issue here, hands down, is housing. We were in a low-income housing crisis before Covid and now we’re in a middle-income housing crisis. I’ve spent a lot of time knocking on doors and talking to people and this is really the headline. Above and beyond everything else. If it’s not directly impacting them, it’s impacting someone they know. Everyone has a story. It is a lead issue now. An answer to it, in this district, is really an investment in our infrastructure. You can build more housing when you have better wastewater systems. Attracting a huge amount of federal funding that came from Washington this spring would be a part of that. But without a Democrat in office, our state senate district won’t get a significant part of that funding.
TI: What are specific initiatives that you will implement in order to tackle the mental health crisis adults and children alike are facing, especially post-pandemic?
JC: It’s terrifying and I’ve already been spending a ton of time partially in some of the high schools in our district. The first thing we need to do is we have to get more social workers into our schools. Children have lost two years of interaction. The demand for counselors and social workers is through the roof. Depending on what district I’m talking to, some of them have funding, but can’t fill the spots, and some of them haven’t even gotten their funding approved. We absolutely need to prioritize that. We’re actually hearing that same thing from nonprofits that work on mental health. We’ll also be working with local schools to put in more social worker fast track programs because that is the best way to get counselors into our environment.
TI: How do you intend to implement lasting solutions in search of economic freedom and job protection in your region? What groups will you specifically target and why?
JC: We’re working closely with the unions, particularly the building trades. If you dig into the economics of our country, really the origin of the middle-class is our unions. Unionized jobs are what allow people to live a middle-class life under a single income and not be working two shifts and not seeing their children. Particularly our building trades unions are the heart of our economy up here [District 43]. We are committed to supporting our unions. Unions are what provide access to careers, trading, long-term benefits, and stability. We’re partnering with the unions. We have the support of all the building trades unions. We’re really committed to maintaining that segment of our economy, going forward, and protecting it.
TI: What advice would you give to girls or young women aspiring to have a career in politics?
JC: Have tough skin. I am jealous of my colleagues who stepped into their political careers in their early thirties and are getting into their momentum before they have young children. It is hard to campaign with children, the schedules don’t align. When I look around at colleagues who had the foresight to run in their late twenties or early thirties, they’re able to put the time in a different way.
My biggest thing would be, don’t think “I’m not ready yet” to run. No, you’re always ready to run. No one here is qualified in politics. It’s the person who raises their hand the highest and the loudest. There’s a town board member in one of our towns who is 21 years old. I would say she’s one of the most articulate people in those board meetings. That is the type of leadership we need. Do not think you’re not ready to do it. You’re more ready than anyone else.