SOMEWHERE ON I-90 — U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer this week completed his annual visit to all 62 of New York’s counties, with Lewis County his final stop on the marathon tour that Schumer has now completed each of his 22 years serving the Empire State in the Senate.
The same day as his Lowville press conference calling for more aid for rural counties dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Schumer spoke exclusively to The Palladium-Times about why he takes on the endeavor each year and what he’s seen change over the years.
“I only visit the counties to learn, and it helps me craft legislation that really benefits New York and the people in it,” Schumer told the Pall-Times when reached by phone. “For instance, early on in the COVID crisis, I visited a store in Wortsboro that had been in the family 200 years, two brothers ran it, they were ready to go under, and they needed help. In Albany, I went to the Palace Theater who was ready to collapse as a performing arts space. I went to schools in central New York that were just hurting because of COVID and it was much more expensive to open up. They taught me these simple things like we have to double the bus routes because you can’t sit kids next to each other in seats on the bus.”
The Brooklyn Democrat’s relentless travel schedule keeps him grounded, he said, and Schumer has never been afraid of getting his hands dirty while down there.
“Although I’ve gained the title of Senate Democratic Leader, my proudest and most principal titles have been, and will always remain, New York’s Senator and New Yorker. At the close of 22 years, my beliefs are as clear as ever: Senators who stay in Washington and never return home are simply not doing their job,” Schumer said. “Although this year looked a little different with online or-socially distanced events and celebrations, that’s why I safely go to all of the places that I can. Whether I’m celebrating a virtual high school graduation or fighting for our first responders all over the state, I’m always learning more about New York directly from my constituents.”
In more than two decades, the landscapes physically, economically and ideologically of upstate areas have been unalterably changed. What does Schumer see when he drives from Plattsburgh to Penfield, or Buffalo to Brockport?
“What I’ve seen that’s encouraging is the enterprising urge of New Yorkers,” Schumer said. “They are always looking when there is adversity to find ways to overcome it. The changes we have had in jobs, when jobs migrated, trying to find new jobs and new ways to get by. What is discouraging is I think particularly in more rural areas, the hospitals and our dairy farmers and our fruit and vegetable growers don’t get the federal help they need. I don’t think rural America gets enough attention and people forget that New York has the third largest rural population in the country.”
It’s here where Schumer brings up what might be his biggest agenda item since the health care reforms of the first term of President Barack Obama, saying it’s driven by wanting “this big, massive federal government to pay far more attention to rural communities.”
“Franklin Roosevelt said every home should have electricity, and he set up the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to do it,” Schumer said. “Now we say, every home should have access to broadband internet.”
Schumer, with an eye to the future, said the American economy will only progress further and further into internet-based communication and if we’re to compete on a global field then mass broadband initiatives are a critically important part.
“Lots of homes in Oswego County and other places don’t have access to broadband. It’s a killer, our hospitals need good broadband for telemedicine, our schools need good broadband for virtual learning,” Schumer said. “Having visited the counties and seeing how rural in the rural parts of New York when you don’t have broadband you’re stuck. I have a bi-partisan proposal that everyone can get behind.”
As leader of the opposition party in the nation’s senior deliberating body, Schumer says despite post-election chicanery by President Donald Trump, Schumer believes the roots of the American republic “go deep.”
“Even though some people are trying to tamper with it,” he said. “I have faith that the republic will prevail.”
Charles Ellis Schumer, who turned 70 this week, was born in Brooklyn and still resides there. He served in the New York Assembly from 1975 to 1980, when he won election to the House of Representatives. His career in Congress would continue until he unseated popular incumbent Republican Al D’Amato in a fierce 1998 election. Schumer was named Senate Minority Leader in 2017, a role in which he frequently collaborates with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.