The first woman to represent Broome County in the state legislature, Donna Lupardo, spoke to Binghamton University students and community members on Tuesday night.
The event, hosted by the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) at BU and the Southern Tier Young Professionals, provided an opportunity for students and others to connect with an elected representative and explore ways they could be more politically involved.
Lupardo started off by telling the story of how she came to understand and appreciate the local area and its people. Coming from Staten Island in 1976, she graduated from BU with a master’s in philosophy. Lupardo worked as an adjunct lecturer of human development before working to improve community mental health education and public service. She said staying in the area gave her the opportunity to connect with residents and the community as a whole.
“I’m not from around here — I came to BU for graduate school and actually chose to stay here,” Lupardo said. “I am the classic ‘Why did you stay here?’ question that people never forget to ask. I think sometimes there is an advantage to not being from here. In some ways, I am more protective of everyone and everything because I chose to be here.”
Lupardo was first elected in 2004 and is currently in her eighth term representing the city of Binghamton and the towns of Union and Vestal in the New York General Assembly. She has held a number of positions in the assembly, including chair of the committee on agriculture, co-chair of the New York Legislative Aviation Caucus and former chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus. Lupardo also serves on the economic development, higher education, rules and transportation committees.
She gave an overview of her platform and concerns for the area, speaking about her special interest in public health and prevention of environmental hazards, as well as economic and structural recovery for the area.
“I spent a lot of time seeing how bad policies on the state level impacted families — I never dreamed in a million years that I would run for political office,” Lupardo said. “I’m not a better voice in the room, I am a needed voice in the room. We need people in politics who are comfortable confronting and engaging in real-life problems.”
The CCE aims to cultivate partnerships that strengthen communities and develop active and engaged citizens. The center serves as a resource to help students connect with the local community and supports voter education activities. Alison Handy Twang, associate director of the CCE, said events like this one help students connect with their elected officials and understand the role of government in the community.
“Binghamton University students are an important part of our community, but many of our students come from outside the area and are not familiar with the opportunities and challenges our community faces,” Handy Twang said. “Many people are also unfamiliar with the role of government at the local and state level, and this event will help students feel more informed about the roles of their elected representatives.”
Elizabeth Nutig, a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, said the event gave her the information she needed to be able to educate others about local government while getting to meet a local politician.
“I’ve heard a lot about Donna Lupardo, so this event gave me the chance to be in a more intimate setting with a politician and being able to interact with her,” Nutig said. “I feel more educated in her role and the structures of government because if you want to make a change, you have to be familiar with things like these.”
Brian Bennett, a junior majoring in English, said it is important for community members, not just students, to attend similar events.
“I’m taking a civic engagement class this semester with Professor David Campbell and he is always trying to get us to attend local community events to see what is going on,” Bennett said. “This event got people raising questions as to what actually needs to be addressed in the community and getting answers about the information they really desperately need.”
Lupardo ended the night by stressing the importance of civic engagement and encouraging students to get involved in local elections and politics.
“I’m always happy to come to the University because I think it is important for students to understand the new narrative we are trying to build for this community,” Lupardo said. “We really are welcoming the involvement of everyone and as much as the University is an important anchor, these students are even more important because of the insight they can bring.”