Harriet Cornell has been a Legislator since 1984 and was the first woman to chair the Rockland County Legislature, a position she held from January 2005 to December 2013, the longest consecutive term to date. Her long record of accomplishments led to The Journal News naming her as one of 25 people who made the greatest impact on Rockland County during the 20th Century.
Mrs. Cornell's priorities have included protection of our environment, enhanced educational resources, improved health services for women and children, homeland security, Rockland's transportation infrastructure, and smart land use planning. She has brought together elected officials from every level of government in Summit meetings to cooperate on these issues of mutual concern.
The following are among Mrs. Cornell's recent accomplishments:
- She hosted a series of summit meetings, bringing together elected officials, policy makers and other county residents to explore such issues as Homeland Security, Land Use, Transportation, and the future of the Tappan Zee Bridge.
- Working with county officials, she led efforts to establish the Rockland County Homeland Security Task Force to conduct an in depth study of the county's vulnerabilities and preparedness to address any terrorist threats. The Task Force also put together a series of recommendations for local, state and federal action to address these issues. The Task Force's report, Assessing and Identifying Capabilities and Critical Needs Regarding Homeland Security in Rockland County, New York, was released on January 11, 2007.
- She founded, and Co-Chaired with Rockland Community College President Cliff Wood, the Rockland Education Collaborative, an ad hoc group of educators, elected officials, not-for-profit representatives, and parents to consider the impact of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation on the children and schools of Rockland. The Collaborative's 72-page report, Rockland's Voices: Making the Case for Amending the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, was completed in November 2006 and sent to Washington for consideration in the debate regarding reauthorization of the legislation. Its importance was recognized by Education Week, a prominent national publication which featured Rockland's unique efforts in its February 7, 2007 issue. Mrs. Cornell was invited by Senator Hillary Clinton to bring a delegation to Congress to brief lawmakers on the findings.
- She has made the future of the Tappan Zee Bridge one of her top priorities. She hosted a series of meetings and became a leading advocate to ensure that the process by which state officials make a final determination is conducted in a manner which is open and transparent. In that way all Rockland residents will fully understand probable impacts and Rockland elected officials can make informed decisions.
- She worked with state officials to secure an air monitoring station to be placed in Rockland County and sponsored legislation to reduce pollutants, including mandating the phased-in purchase of clean vehicles for the county's light and medium duty fleet; and the use of ultra-low sulfur fuel and emission-reducing technology in all the county's on-road diesel powered vehicles. She also worked to establish penalties for idling of motor vehicles longer than three minutes.
- She created the Rockland Child Care Task Force to determine ways to increase subsidies to low income families for child care and to provide tuition, enhanced training opportunities, and better compensation for child care workers.
- She hosted a series of hearings on children's health issues designed to explore such concerns as lack of insurance for low income families, limited availability of services and insurance for children suffering from mental illness, language barriers for new immigrant families, and the need for a continuum of life-long health services for Rockland residents. The findings of these hearings include recommendations for state and local action.
- She earlier sponsored legislation to acquire distance learning equipment in Rockland schools, libraries and teachers' centers to allow children and adults access to learning opportunities throughout the world. She then created an ongoing group to develop content and to encourage its use.
In 1984, her first year as a legislator, Mrs. Cornell founded the Legislature's Commission on Women's Issues and invited community leaders to participate in the formulation of public policy. The ambitious work of this committee included the creation of the Rockland Housing Action Coalition to address affordable housing issues; the Child Care Coalition to focus on quality, affordable child care; the opening of the county's AIDS Clinic as a direct result of the first hearings on HIV/AIDS in Rockland; pay equity for county employees; gynecological care for uninsured and under-insured women; youth employment programs; care for the aging; outreach for breast cancer detection; education about heart disease; and the formation of STOP F.E.A.R., a coalition to stem the scourge of domestic violence.
During her tenure in the Legislature, Mrs. Cornell also served as Chair of the Multi Services Committee, the Transportation Committee, and the Arts, Culture & Tourism Committee. She sponsored the unique Arts in Public Places Law, which requires art to be included in county construction projects.
Mrs. Cornell's lifelong interest in the well-being of children and families led to her leadership role in the creation of Rockland Schools of the 21st Century, also known as Rockland 21C, which she has chaired for 11 years. The goal of this collaborative organization is the optimal development of every child. Through this collaboration of family, school, community and government, 30 county schools now have family resource centers with access to social services, health services and literacy programs for all family members including a home visitation program for 2 and 3-year olds.
A dedicated public servant, Mrs. Cornell has served as Liaison to the Rockland County Fire Advisory Board, a Member of the Hudson River Valley Greenway Conservancy, Founder and Co-Chair of the Rockland County Breast Cancer Task Force, Founder of the Rockland County Coalition for Democracy and Freedom, board member of the Clearwater and Chair of the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee. She has served as a member of a wide variety of civic and cultural organizations, including the Rockland Center for the Arts, Rockland Parent-Child Center, NAACP, Historical Society of Rockland, Mental Health Association of Rockland, Child Care Resources of Rockland, the Rockland County Conservation Association, Friends of the Nyacks, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Hadassah, Hopper House, NOW, American Association of University Women, Hi-Tor Animal Shelter and the Rockland Women's Political Caucus.
Mrs. Cornell has always been forthright and outspoken about her strong beliefs. In 1984 she formed and chaired the first Citizen's Commission to Close Indian Point and has sponsored legislation ever since to close that nuclear power plant.
Mrs. Cornell was honored to be recognized for her work in the community by a number of prestigious organizations and institutions. The first-ever Good Housekeeping/Ford Foundation Award was presented to Mrs. Cornell in 1998 for her efforts which demonstrate how government can improve people's lives. In 1999, she received the Rockland County Economic Development Corporation Award for "exceptional efforts to foster a healthy economy in Rockland County." She received the Yale University Public Service Award in 1998 for exemplary leadership, resulting from her work with Rockland 21C. She was honored by the Martin Luther King Center for her dedication to the ideals of Dr. King and by the Library Association of Rockland County for her support of public libraries. More recently, she received the Rockland Family Shelter Distinguished Citizen Award in 2005, Child Care Resources of Rockland Children's Champion Award and the Jewish Family Service Community Service Award in 2004, and the Rockland Center for the Arts Award and the A.A.U.W. Woman of Achievement Award in 2003. She received the first County Executive's Arts Award for her sponsorship of the Arts In Public Places legislation and for her work promoting the arts. The Historical Society of Rockland is honoring her in March 2007 for lifetime achievement.
Mrs. Cornell's efforts to include women's perspectives and aspirations in the formulation of public policy, to encourage and assist women to become politically active and her many actions to enhance the lives of children and families merited her inclusion in Feminists Who Changed America 1963-1975, published by the University of Illinois Press in 2006.
Mrs. Cornell is a graduate of Swarthmore College and received her M.P.A. degree from N.Y.U. Wagner Graduate School of Public Policy. She was married for 48 years to attorney J. Martin Cornell until his death in 2002. He had been President of the Rockland County Bar Association, President of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission and a former County Attorney of Rockland County. They have four children and three grandsons.