New York State Senator Liz Krueger is the speaker at the 2018 Diploma and Hooding Ceremony at Harris.


Following the unexpected presidential election results of 2016, which she found disheartening and happened to coincide with the prolonged illness and passing of her parents, eight-term New York State Senator Liz Krueger AM’81 was ready to pack it in, leave office, and start the next chapter in her life.

But then something happened to change her mind.

The country seemed to wake up. A tidal wave of activism, particularly among young women, in response to the prevailing political and social climate, reenergized Krueger. Currently running unopposed, the Democrat will likely be re-elected this November for her ninth term, representing New York State Senate District 28, which includes some of the wealthiest, most educated, and politically informed voters in New York City, if not America.

From Direct Services to Constituent Services 

Krueger never envisioned herself being a politician, let alone one whose career has now spanned 16 years. Upon leaving the University of Chicago with her master's in public policy (before the Harris School of Public Policy became a full-fledged graduate school), Krueger intended to pursue employment in social welfare policy. However, it was 1981, and newly-elected President Ronald Reagan was seeming to undo every government social welfare program that interested the young graduate.

"I would have all these terrific networking interviews, where I thought, ‘Ooh, I'm so qualified. I just graduated from the University of Chicago, and people will be interested.' Unfortunately, the people I was talking to would tell me how they were losing their jobs. In fact, everyone they knew were losing their jobs, so if I found something good, I should let them know,” Krueger recalled.

Krueger's talents landed her in the nonprofit sector and, eventually, New York, where she built a fulfilling 20-year career in anti-poverty, policy advocacy, and direct service work. Then, one fateful night in March 2000, Krueger received a call from two Democratic state senators intent on capturing at least seven senate seats for the party in the November elections, and switching the State Senate from red to blue for the first time since 1939.

After ascertaining that they were not calling her to draft white papers on poverty issues for candidates or help with fundraising, she finally asked why they were reaching out to her. It turned out they wanted her to run, arguing that no matter what she was ever trying to accomplish in her anti-poverty work, she needed bills to pass the senate and the Republican-dominated legislature was never going to pass the kind she was fighting for.

While that was cogent reasoning, she still questioned the logic, pointing out to her callers that, "the Republican Senator who controls my district had been there for 32 years and had gotten the New York Times endorsement 16 times in a row. In my district, the Times political endorsement is gold. He was the ‘last liberal Republican in New York State.' Democrats were voting for him, as well as Republicans."

Despite the seemingly impossible odds of beating the unbeatable incumbent, the two senators got Krueger thinking.

"I thought about it and I decided that I would lose, but it would probably be an incredible educational opportunity to talk to a larger universe of people about the issues that I thought mattered in government. I'd also gain some skills. And, as long as I didn't do anything to embarrass myself, I figured no harm, no foul to run and lose," she recounted.

As it turns out, the 16-term senator was not entirely unbeatable. As popular as he was in the District, the long serving Senator was becoming ineffective in Albany, where his mix of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism was increasingly out of step with a state Republican Party that was quickly moving to the right on both social and economic issues.

Making the case that Goodman was no longer welcomed in his own party and was accomplishing less and less each year, Krueger was able to grab the attention of Democrats and Independents, but it was not enough attention to sweep her into office. She lost by 193 votes, following a six-and-half-week recount – a recount that took longer than the other notable recount that year: the 2000 presidential election.

However, the writing was on the wall for Senator Goodman, who almost immediately announced his retirement from office. That prompted a special election just 14 months after the November election. Krueger won handily, thanks in no small part to the continued coverage of her campaign during the prolonged recount. Of course, she had to defend her seat just 10 months later in November 2002, putting her in the rare and unenviable position of running three state senatorial campaigns in a span of just 24 months.

The two-and-a-half years of non-stop campaigning to begin her political career undoubtedly helped her build relationships and trust among her constituents who, after electing her twice in 2002, have re-elected her six more times. While she will no doubt face a Republican again this year, her district is likely to send her back to Albany for a ninth term in the November elections.

Making an Impact in the State Legislature

State Senator Liz Krueger

Krueger is now the ranking Democrat on the New York State Senate Finance Committee and hopes to become Chair of the Finance Committee, when her house finally switches from red to blue in the next election cycle. She has no intentions of ever pursuing national political office, having too much appreciation for the diversity and complexity of state-level government, where they are making impactful decisions on education, healthcare, the environment, housing, insurance, banking, and transportation.

"As the ranking Democrat on Finance, I have incredible autonomy to work on all the issues that I think matter and insert myself into the process, even when I lose more than I win, which was always the story for me when I did anti-poverty work. I'm not a kid anymore. In Congress, you wait 10 years to even get on a committee you want. It's someplace you should go when you are young, learn to do the job right, work to get and hold the majority and do important things," said Krueger.

Moreover, Krueger believes that during her time in office, Congress has become even more dysfunctional than the New York State legislature, which, she herself admits, is saying a lot. She laments the "20-minute news cycle," driven by texts and blogs, where a person can post anything and, depending on who's reading it, has as much credibility as the most carefully-vetted quality journalist. At the state and national level, it leads to lower quality candidates and elected politicians, who base policy on ideology and poorly designed political polls, as opposed to facts, research and best practices.

"They Do Not Want a Newsletter Filled with Photos of Ribbon Cuttings"

"It frustrates me that there's not more data-driven decision making," said Krueger, who also noted that she is fortunate to represent a district that is highly educated and, more than most voters, appreciate her love for and reliance on data – a testament to her Harris education.

"Most everyone in my district has undergraduate and graduate degrees. They are not just professionals; many are the kings and queens of their industry. These are people who not only value the very policy-heavy updates that I provide, they expect it. They do not want a newsletter filled with photos of ribbon cuttings," said Krueger.

"I really enjoy when constituents tell me I am too liberal for them, but they know I am honest, work hard and am able to defend my positions. While Krueger enters this election cycle with a renewed energy and passion for the fight, she is just as eager to have fresh, young idealists get more involved in the district."

"I'm energized about the possibilities that the future holds. But that doesn't change the fact that I would love other people to take a stab at my seat if they think they can do it better. I have no illusions that I'm not replaceable, that there are people smarter than me, and who might have better ways to accomplish things," said Krueger.

It increasingly concerns her that there are too few decent people who want to run for office these days, a problem that she partially attributes to campaign finance laws and dark money spending which, at the state level and above, tend to favor candidates with the most money from special interests, not the best ideas.

"I would encourage everybody who cares about government and understands that democracy is incredibly fragile to get involved. We could lose it overnight without realizing it. You have to have good, strong principled people to run for office. Otherwise, this whole thing can blow up in our faces. It does not scare me that there might be more of these kinds of people wanting my job. I would be thrilled to have played some role in accomplishing that mission," she said.