ALBANY — Assembly Deputy Speaker Catherine Nolan said Friday she will not seek re-election to the queen’s seat she has held for 38 years, where she fought for civil rights , school assistance, and the state’s Paid Family Leave Act while paving the way for women in the legislature.
The announcement sparks a rush for the seat in this year’s parliamentary elections.
Nolan, 63, (D-Sunnyside) had served as chair of the banking, labor and education committees. For decades, she has been at the forefront of work and housing rights for LGBTQ New Yorkers. She also led legislation to protect farm workers and immigrants and provide more public comment and oversight to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
As chair of the Education Committee, she spearheaded the decade-long political fight to provide billions more dollars to New York schools after a landmark 2006 court ruling determined that students were being denied a “solid and basic education”.
“A number of issues that we worked on have been resolved,” she told Newsday. “There are still things we need to do, but it has to be a new person.”
Its 37th District includes Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Maspeth, and part of Long Island City.
She was diagnosed with cancer a year ago and does her work remotely, sometimes from a hospital bed. She said she is stable now.
“I’m fine, I’m pretty much back in the district office, but I just can’t do the way I did with all the events,” she said. “I can no longer run for office like before and be with my voters. I’m a little sad, but 38 years old… I always gave my all, and I won’t be able to do it anymore.”
This race began when she was a 26-year-old bride in 1984. She was then one of 23 women in the 212-seat legislature. Today, about half of the seats in the Senate and the Assembly are held by women.
“They said of my husband, ‘Who’s going to cook him dinner?’ I laughed and said, “We’ll fix it. His pasta sauce is better than mine”… You have to have a supportive family.
In 1998 she became a mother and there were more questions.
“I’ve had quite a few people in Albany say, ‘When are you going to give up on your committee?’ and, ‘When are you leaving?’ – not if, but when are you leaving… women have always been asked to prove themselves, constantly.
“I think I showed you can do it and it’s pretty common now,” Nolan said. She credits her mentors, including her father, a union leader who grew up in public housing; former Governor Mario Cuomo and former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, who in 1984 was the first woman to be named vice president by a major party.
“I pretty much loved every minute,” Nolan said. “It never bothered me to fight for the right thing.”