Shelley Mayer has traded her Morningside Heights office for a seat in Albany. Earlier this spring, Mayer, who served as senior counsel to the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School
, was elected to the New York State Assembly representing District 93—her hometown of Yonkers.
Mayer, 59, was voted into office in an uncontested special election in March. A former assistant attorney general in New York who prosecuted cases of age discrimination and violations of reproductive, tenants’ and consumers’ rights for more than a decade, Mayer spoke about her new job in an interview during the 120-mile commute to the state capital. Since 2002, Mayer and her husband of 32 years, Lee Smith, have lived in her childhood home in Yonkers.
“I feel like I’ve been in Yonkers all of my life,” said Mayer, who has served New York’s fourth largest city as a member of its democratic committee, NAACP, YWCA and the board of the public library, among other organizations. “Yonkers has had its share of troubles, but it is a great small city with so much potential. I feel very fortunate to represent Yonkers—it’s a tremendous challenge and a wonderful opportunity.”
As an assemblywoman, Mayer’s first vote supported legislation that will protect victims of domestic violence, and she plans to make Yonkers’ public schools a top priority. “We have great schools, but we must continue to invest in them,” said Mayer, who advocates a return of robust sports programs in order to form “whole schools.”
Mayer, a graduate of UCLA and SUNY Buffalo School of Law, is also backing a bill that would establish a State University of New York engineering school in Yonkers. “We have 26,000 kids in public school, and SUNY is an affordable option that would generate economic activity and bring students to Yonkers.”
Mayer arrived at the law school center a year ago with 14 years of experience in the office of former New York Attorney General Bob Abrams and after serving as the general counsel in the New York State Senate. The program, led by Law Professor James E. Tierney
, a former Maine attorney general, provides research and legal information to state prosecutors. “We help attorneys general do their jobs,” said Tierney. “We combine academic work with what state attorneys general do in the field by teaching ethics and law enforcement.”
With a grant from the Ford Foundation, Tierney hired Mayer to explore the provisions of President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation and write recommendations for attorneys general if the law passes Supreme Court review. Mayer also conducted a nationwide survey on the enforcement of labor laws and workers’ rights and spoke to Columbia law students about careers in state and local government.
When Mayer decided to run for public office, Tierney enthusiastically backed her. “This is great for Columbia and great for New York,” said Tierney. “Shelley is an asset to Yonkers.”
—by Meghan Berry