By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO November 25, 2003 It was a bittersweet moment for Aileen Gunther, newly elected NYS Assemblywoman of the 98th Assembly District.
Just a few short months ago, she lost her beloved husband and 98th District Assemblyman Jacob Jake Gunther III.
And on Thursday, November 20, in the wake of a landslide election victory, Aileen Gunther was sworn in to fill the seat of her late husband in a moving ceremony at the Sullivan County Government Center in Monticello.
In introducing Gunther to the audience squeezed into the lobby, Sullivan County Clerk George L. Cooke II said, Aileens determination, enthusiasm and conviction will now be at the disposal of all the residents of the district.
It was also a moment tinged with emotional memories for the Hon. Anthony Kane, Associate Justice of the NYS Court of Appeals, as he administered the oath of office to Gunther.
Approximately a year ago, he performed similar duties for the late assemblyman.
I am really honored today to have the opportunity to administer the oath of office to our newest Assembly representative, said Judge Kane.
Reflecting on the passage of time and how unforeseen events shape lives and that good men are never forgotten he added, I can visualize him smiling down on us, proud of Aileens strength and the spirit our community has given her.
I know that because of her strength, courage and determination, and above all, her compassion, Aileen will represent our community to the highest traditions of a democratic society, said Judge Kane.
And with that, Gunther left the side of her brother-in-law, Bill Gunther, and scores of family members and well-wishers to ascend to the podium and her place in history.
With her right hand raised and her other hand on the Holy Bible, Gunther repeated after Judge Kane, I, Aileen Gunther, do solemnly swear that I will uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the Office of the 98th Assembly District . . . to the best of my abilities, so help me God.
As the states most newly minted member of the Assembly, Gunther said, This is an incredible day in my life. . . . Today is truly a bittersweet moment.
I will strive every day to be worthy of your trust . . . [and] as I stand here before you today, there is only one thing that would make this moment more special: having my husband Jake at my side, she added.
I need to move forward and carry on the tradition of service and commitment that made my husband a strong leader, said Gunther. I will continue to build on the foundation that Jake laid and will try to make Sullivan County and Orange County a better place to live, work and raise a family. . . . We will continue Jakes initiatives until we realize all of his objectives.
And with that, Gunther introduced her new staff: Paula Kay (legislative director), Rita Simon (chief of staff), Sean Hanofee (Sullivan County Assembly district office administrator), Lorraine Hardy, (Orange County district office administrator), Burt Yust (Sullivan County district liaison) and Mickey Morgano (Orange County district liaison).
After all the applause died down, Gunther was surrounded by a diverse group of folks who offered heartfelt congratulations: from local political movers and shakers and community leaders to a little three-year-old girl named Lindsie Siegel from Ferndale and Rabbi Shlomo Rothenberg from the yeshiva in Mountaindale.
Jake did a lot for us, recalled Rabbi Rothenberg.
In the quiet moments after most of the throng had departed, Gunther shared a few thoughts about the events of the day.
It feels bittersweet, she said. When I got up in the morning, in some ways it was surreal, because I was with Jake when he was sworn in. . . . But Im really excited, happy and energetic, ready to go for the challenge.
Gunther said that experiences gained from working 22 years at the local hospital gave her a heads-up on political life and the ability to serve the lifeblood of a community.
After being elected to the NYS Assembly, she gave up her administrative job at Catskill Regional Medical Center (CRMC) in Harris but plans to work part-time on a per diem basis in the emergency room and on the labor/delivery floor.
While carrying on the legacy of her departed spouse, Aileen Gunther has her own agenda for action: improving education for all children; expanding access to quality, affordable health care; reforming property tax laws to take the burden off homeowners and local businesses; and expanding the School Tax Relief (STAR) program.
Looking at the funding of education is a big one for me, she said. We all know that its archaic, and maybe we can make some monumental changes that will give some relief to homeowners, so they will not be driven out by high taxes.
As the ceremony came to an end, Gunther glanced back over her shoulder at the dwindling crowd, saying, The best is yet to come.