Kellie Leeson Runs for NYS Assembly to Challenge the ‘Status Quo’

With a humanitarian background, Leeson hopes to harness the state budget to support families and bolster infrastructure against climate change in District 73

| 09 Feb 2022 | 10:15

Kellie Leeson has rallied behind a number of causes around the globe, from supporting refugees via her humanitarian efforts in Africa to volunteering during Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 run. In Leeson’s New York State Assembly bid to represent Manhattan’s District 73, which spans from Murray Hill to the Upper East Side, she’s channeling her energy toward shaking up the traditional workings of local government — and she wants to do it together.

“The East Side of Manhattan is in such a period of change,” she said, “and so it’s a real opportunity right now to make sure that we just don’t go back to the status quo and we really build on the lessons we’ve learned over the last couple of years to make sure that our city’s really working for all of us.”

Leeson launched her campaign on January 25; she’s running with the goal of reevaluating the state budget, bolstering city infrastructure against climate change and supporting families. Since the creation of a vacancy following current Assembly Member Dan Quart’s announcement that he would not be running for reelection, she’s joined others — namely Russell Squire and May Malik — in vying for the position in District 73. With Leeson, as with Malik, there’s the possibility of a first.

“I’m very excited by the prospect of being the first woman to represent the community,” Leeson said.

Power of Teamwork

For six years, from 2006 to 2012, Leeson devoted herself to the humanitarian work of aiding refugees as the Country Director in Kenya with the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit organization. She went on to become the group’s Regional Deputy Director for the Horn and East Africa, and in 2017 co-founded the Refugee Self-Reliance Initiative, which now boasts relationships with over 40 partners across the globe. It’s a background that’s taught Leeson the power of teamwork.

“These problems are big problems; they cannot be solved with one organization,” she said of the humanitarian issues she’s tackled. “We need all hands on deck so that we can look at these problems differently.”

Closer to home, Leeson co-leads Empire State Indivisible, an activist group dedicated to supporting the election of progressive leaders in New York.

If elected to represent District 73, Leeson has plans to take a critical look at the distribution of the state budget, which is proposed to be over $216 billion. “These are resources that we could be putting into our recovery” post-COVID-19, she said. She also wants to take the environment into account; Leeson supports a demand for $15 billion from climate action groups in New York and a reinforcement of the city’s subways and parks, so that New York can become more “resilient,” in her words. She has plans to prioritize families, too, as a supporter of universal child care.

Part of getting it all done, Leeson believes, is doing it together. “We should try to bring as many New Yorkers as possible into the process of governing,” she said.