Local Heroes

Eleanor’s Legacy supports, and helps train, pro-choice Democratic women who are candidates for state and local rather than national office

    When Edith Windsor, the gay-rights advocate who pursued a case against the federal Defense of Marriage Act all the way to the United States Supreme Court — and won — was (along with her attorney, Roberta A. Kaplan) honored last week with a Trailblazers of Democracy award, it was almost a local story. At least, I like to think of it that way.

    Ms. Windsor and Ms. Kaplan have second homes on the South Fork, Ms. Windsor in Southampton and Ms. Kaplan in the Village of East Hampton. What is more, the awards were presented by Eleanor’s Legacy, an organization founded in 2001 by Judith Hope, a former East Hampton Town supervisor, who is its president.

    Ms. Windsor and Ms. Kaplan were among those who spoke before more than 600 enthusiastic people at the fall luncheon put on by Eleanor’s Legacy at the Hyatt at Grand Central Hotel, in Manhattan. Given my positions at The Star over the years, which have kept me away from advocacy groups, joining in the applause was a rare pleasure.

    Eleanor’s Legacy supports, and helps train, pro-choice Democratic women who are candidates for state and local rather than national office. This year, it lists five women running to be mayors, 12 seeking to become town supervisors, 34 candidates for county legislatures, 29 town board hopefuls, and two vying for highway superintendent. That adds up to 118. Vivian Viloria-Fisher, a candidate for Brookhaven supervisor, was among those who spoke, as was Nancy Seligson, the supervisor of Mamaroneck, and, of course, Ms. Hope.

    But the headliner of the afternoon was former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, whose resilience in coming back from extreme injury has riveted the nation. Her smile and brief but strong remarks drew a long standing ovation. Pia Carusone, executive director of Americans for Responsible Solutions — which Ms. Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, founded to advocate for safe gun ownership — spoke on her behalf.

    The keynote speaker was Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who has the distinction of being the first female in history to lead a state legislative conference, Democratic or Republican. Eleanor’s Legacy, she noted, was inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt, who fought for social justice and civil rights, working with the Alabama-based Southern Conference for Human Welfare in 1938, 17 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus to someone who was white.

    Not that the audience needed a reminder about just which Eleanor was being referenced. Among the guests was Blanche Wiesen Cook, the Eleanor Roosevelt biographer, who is a part-time resident of Springs.

    One of the most impressive aspects of the event was the large number of women of color among the candidates who were introduced or spoke. One was Letitia James, a city councilwoman who is running for and is likely to be the next New York City public advocate, taking over that all-important position from Bill De Blasio, the Democratic candidate for mayor. It also was notable that, although Eleanor’s Legacy is an organization run by and for women, about one-fifth of those attending were male, including three state senators: Michael Gianaris, Terry Gipson, and Jose Marco Serrano.

    According to Brette McSweeney, executive director of Eleanor’s Legacy, those who turned out came from all corners of the state. For that reason they are likely to have differences of opinion on many important issues. But on this afternoon the camaraderie was overwhelming.