Tuesday, October 26, 2021

No hugs for Betty: ‘Nobody wants to kill grandma’

By Mark Frost, Chronicle Editor

“I find it very difficult,” says New York State Senator Betty Little about coping with the coronavirus crisis and living with the stay-at-home mandate.

9-term NYS Senator Betty Little at the December announcement that she will not seek re-election

At the age of 79, she has a large family — including 18 grandchildren; seven live locally — but there’s no comforting embrace.

“My grandchildren don’t want to come close to me,” she says.

“They have a hug signal. Nobody wants to be ‘the one who killed grandma.’ That’s what they’re saying.”

Staying largely at home on Glen Lake, Sen. Little says, “I just feel so bad for the kids, for the homebound, and certainly anyone who loses a loved one.”

“I’m just so worried about so much,” says Sen. Little.

She said she especially misses traveling her huge Adirondack 45th Senate District that encompasses all of Warren, Essex, Clinton and Franklin Counties, and parts of St. Lawrence and Washington. She announced in December she won’t seek re-election, ending her 18-year stint.

The senator is sticking close to home, but she has her finger on the district’s major concerns

Is the Cuomo administration seeking her advice?

“I don’t know if they’re asking for it. I’m giving it.”

She praises Governor Cuomo’s daily televised briefings.

“I think he’s staying right on top of it. I’m impressed — I’m not surprised. I think he’s doing a great job.” She says family in California and Arizona praise Gov. Cuomo too.

She is also upbeat about President Trump. “I think he’s doing a good job. He’s got good people on his team. He’s acting very Presidential. I love that Dr. [Deborah] Birx [the Trump administration’s Coronavirus Response Coordinator]. I love listening to her.”

She adds, “I love the Surgeon General,” Jerome Adams, who is also a vice admiral. Sen. Little notes in a follow-up text: “am partial to navy too!!”

Does she think Trump will win re-election? “Right now I do. I think Biden would have won last time. I don’t think he will win this time.” She adds, “I’m somewhat biased because of my political party.”

A former teacher, the senator wants schools to reopen this school year. “Wouldn’t it be better if they went back to school even for three weeks? They haven’t been in a classroom since March.”

“Some kids are learning a lot,” those with active parents and an in-home school plan, says Sen. Little, but that “some kids are getting nothing out of it.” She notes, “There are still areas in my district that do not have Internet service. They have a Chromebook [computer] and have to go to the town hall parking lot to be able to use it.”

When The Chronicle interviewed the senator by phone on April 16, the state coronavirus ban on recreational boating was still in effect. She wanted that to change. “We have second homes on Lake George and Lake Placid and even Tupper Lake that the only way you can get to your second home is by boat,” she noted. She likewise wants camping allowed for self-contained RVs.

She reels off hospitals in her district and tells, one by one, how many (rather, how few) COVID-19 patients they have had and the scant use of ventilators. “Much less demand than expected,” she says.

Sen. Little wants the state to give upstate hospitals room to operate, literally. “The elective surgery, we have got to get back to that,” she says. Beyond direct hospital layoffs, services aren’t being provided in nursing homes, whose “population is down” as well.

At a time when the state wasn’t releasing details on COVID in the prison population, Sen. Little told The Chronicle, “We’ve been lucky. So far, so good.” She said the system has enough space so COVID patients can be isolated. Figures released by the state Monday backed her appraisal.

In the flow of conversation, Sen. Little mentions businesspeople in the region and what she’s hearing from them. She said the topic of foreign workers on J-1 visas came up with the owner of a prominent hotel. She says he told her: “I don’t know if they’ll be allowed to come and I don’t know that we’re going to need them.” Outlook, grim.

“I think we have stopped the spread somewhat,” Sen. Little said, and “I think in the next month, bit by bit, they will let more [businesses] open.”

She says, “I’ve had a hairdresser call me to say their organization is trying to get the okay to open up again.”

Sen. Little says she has a personal stake in that outcome. “I’m gonna need a ponytail soon if I don’t get a hairdresser….I told people I’m going to look like Nellie Staves,” who turns out to have been a legendary Tupper Lake resident “with long white air” who died at the age of 87 in 2009.

The nine-term state senator says, “I miss being up and seeing people in the rest of the district. I hope people are reaching out to other people. I know how distressed I am. I can only imagine how distressed other people must be.”

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