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The transition to Albany: What life's like for new senators, Assembly members

The newly elected officials are hiring staffs, finding office space and figuring out their new living arrangements.

Julia Salazar, state senator-elect from Brooklyn, said she

Julia Salazar, state senator-elect from Brooklyn, said she will likely live in a hotel when she is in Albany. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Scott Heins

As newly elected state politicians from New York City hire staffs and meet with constituents, they're also figuring out everyday tasks — like how to get to the capital.

“I currently do not have a driver’s license, so I’ll be taking the Amtrak up until further notice,” said Zellnor Myrie, a senator-elect from Prospect Lefferts Gardens. “In Albany, I’ve been told it’s useful to have a car, but I’m hoping that I’ll be in good enough standing with my colleagues to get a ride to work.”

Myrie, a lawyer, is one of seven new senators representing parts of New York City who will be sworn into office Jan. 2. The Democratic upstarts were swept into office amid a “blue wave” that gave the party the Senate majority for the first time in a decade.

Senator-elect Julia Salazar, of north Brooklyn, said she, too, plans to take Amtrak to Albany. (She can drive, but doesn't have a car.)

Salazar, who at 27 will become the youngest state senator, said that while upstate, she expects to live in a hotel that offers special rates to legislators. Others may decide to rent a second residence.

“The normalcy of living in a hotel in Albany is sort of strange,” she said. “We’ll see if it’s something I’ll get used to.”

The former community organizer added that she has considered adopting a dog to keep her company when she travels back and forth. 

“I’m not married and don’t have kids … so I’ve thought about it,” she said. “I haven’t made a commitment yet, but I’m earnestly thinking about adopting a small pet to be my travel companion.”

As they make these decisions, a challenge for both has been living without an income, an issue that was brought to the forefront by Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who told The New York Times she was struggling with getting an apartment in Washington, D.C., before receiving her salary. 

While the state senators aren’t expected to move to Albany before the session begins, Salazar said she can relate to that challenge.

“Having run as a working-class person, as somebody who doesn’t have a big safety net … I also have financial anxiety about the next couple months,” she said.

Myrie, 31, a former City Council staffer, expressed a similar concern.

“It’s very hard for me to see past these next couple of weeks until we actually get our first paycheck,” he said.

Aside from determining living arrangements, the newly elected politicians also are attending workshops and conferences to learn more about policy and operations in Albany.

“I firmly believe that I don’t know what I don’t know,” said Catalina Cruz, a Queens attorney who became the first Dreamer elected to the State Assembly, which remains firmly in Democratic control. “Even though I’ve worked inside of government, I now get to lead in a very different way … so I want to make sure I am as prepared as possible.” 

Cruz and Senator-elect Jessica Ramos, a former City Hall staffer and union advocate elected from Queens, attended a conference over the weekend in D.C. with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

“We went over everything from less important things like personal branding to very important things like budgeting and staffing,” Ramos said. 

Additionally, there will be an orientation for all the new elected officials coming to Albany. 

“It’s very funny to call it a freshmen orientation, but that is essentially what it is,” Salazar said.

Anxious to make the reforms they campaigned on, the incoming legislators also are building relationships with their future colleagues. Senators, in particular, are working “to ensure unity in the Democratic conference,” Salazar said. 

The Democrats now control both houses of the legislature, as well as the governor's mansion.

“We have no excuses anymore,” Ramos said. “I’m really hoping that we’re able to meet the people’s expectations.”

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