“It Doesn’t Stop Here” Celebration of the Life of Newburgh’s Mayor Judy Kennedy
by Michael Lebron
In a testament to the spirit of unity with which she led her city, about 400 family members, friends, and constituents – conservative, liberal, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, black, white, brown, red, yellow – of Mayor Judy Kennedy gathered at the Newburgh Armory (also appropriately called “The Unity Center”) today to say farewell.
Judy took her inspiration from the words of Nelson Mandela: “A real leader uses every issue, no matter how serious and sensitive, to ensure at the end of the debate, we should emerge stronger and more united than ever before.”
The eloquently planned memorial began with tributes from the offices of the governor, Senator Gillibrand, attorney general Eric Schneiderman, Senator Bill Larkin, and comptroller Tom DiNapoli. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney spoke about how their careers representing the city began together. He was impressed with her life trajectory that began in Idaho, took her to Oregon, and wound up in Newburgh. When he first met her, he asked “What are you doing here?” to which she replied “What are you doing here?!!!” He was inspired by her spirit of selflessness, optimism and hope, and her message of working together for all, a message that he said – to much laughter – he has tried to bring to Washington without much success.
A representative from Governor Cuomo’s office said that every time he spoke with her she would lead the conversation with “What did you do for Newburgh today?”
Leaders from the religious communities continued the homage. Iman Harmine Rashada talked about one of his earliest encounters with her as well: “She spoke to me about Muhammad and I said wow here’s this little woman (I can say that now) who felt open about talking about Muhammad to an imam and she would come and eat with us. She felt that if only more people understood Muhammad things would be better. Judy has left, but she is not gone.”
Indeed, she is not. Many are committed to carrying out her legacy. Right to the end, Judy was refusing to let cancer stop her, and – from her bed at the hospice that cared for her – she continued to work at the business, the heart and the soul of the city she loved. What comes next for Newburgh was very much on her mind. Judy was so passionate about the future of Newburgh that Assistant Betty Lewis repeatedly remarked that “She dotted every “i” and crossed every “t”, to make this gathering a successful coming together for a renewed commitment of all involved to work together toward a better future for Newburgh.
Said Michelle Basch of the Wherehouse, a local restaurant Liberty Street: “Judy recognized the unique opportunity that Newburgh presented. If the forces that wanted to keep Newburgh the way that it was can be kept at bay, and if the right combination of people with unique skills can be brought together and work together, there would be a chance for something wonderful to happen”.
Paul Ernenwein, a lawyer who sometimes does work for the city, added: “Her leadership style was novel for Newburgh. It was sincere, thoughtful, pragmatic and effective. Instructive without preaching, inspiring in a foundational way. Bringing people together and connecting them for goal oriented results. Never self promoting or self aggrandizing in any way; focused and task oriented. To the end, she was successful in drawing the best from everyone she pulled in from around her, inspiring us to make things happen. In my last conversation with her, she said ‘Paul, it doesn’t stop here. When I’m gone it does not end’.”
Said Paul: “Yes mayor. I promise. I love you.”
(Armory Photo by Michael Lebron)