Honoring Albany County’s Women of Distinction

Albany County Legis.
4 min readMar 30, 2018

Albany County Legislature holds Annual Women’s History Month Celebration

ALBANY (March 30th, 2018) — The Albany County Legislature honored several trailblazing women as part of Women’s History Month in a poignant ceremony held Thursday in a packed Cahill Room at 112 State St.

Shown are Albany County Legislators Lynne Lekakis and Norma J. Chapman, Deputy Majority Leader Alison McLean Lane, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Legislator Lucille M. McKnight and Deputy Chair Wanda F. Willingham.

Since 1987, the month of March has been celebrated as Women’s History Month to spotlight the achievements, struggles and hopes for equality on the part of women worldwide. On Thursday, female members of the Legislature recognized several women for their accomplishments in the community as part of a 90-minute program. Serving as Mistress of Ceremonies was Briana Brinson, an attorney with the Legal Services Group at the New York Council of Nonprofits in Albany.

One woman Legislator — Lucille M. McKnight — received an award for being the longest female member of the body. Legislator William M. Clay, the chairman of the Legislature’s Legislative Black Caucus, presented Legislator McKnight with the Woman of Leadership Award and a giant bouquet of flowers to recognize her 26 years of service to the residents of Albany County. McKnight later presented Anne Pope, a longtime leader with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, with a Woman of Distinction Award for her lifetime of advocacy against racial discrimination.

The event took place amid some significant changes in the Legislature. Since last March’s program, Victoria Plotsky of Clarksville was elected to the Legislature, bringing the number of women in the body to a record number of eight. Additionally, there are now an unprecedented number of women serving in leadership positions. A few months ago, Chairman Andrew Joyce appointed Legislator Wanda F. Willingham to the job of deputy chair of the Legislature, and Majority Leader Gary W. Domalewicz appointed Legislators Joanne Cunningham of Bethlehem and Alison McLean Lane of Menands as Deputy Majority Leaders.

Deputy Chair Wanda F. Willingham and Mayor Kathy Sheehan

Deputy Chair Willingham played a central role in the ceremony and presented Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, the city’s first woman mayor, with the Pioneer Award. “Because of you, Mayor Sheehan, there are girls and woman across Albany and the Capital Region that can dare to dream,” Willingham said. “You had the tenacity to jump into the highest realms of Albany City politics, which in the past was a man’s playground. What an incredible accomplishment that is.”

In a moving moment, Willingham also presented her sister, former Albany City Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin, with a Woman of Distinction Award. “My friend, my sister, you have been a woman of influence, not only in my life, but in the lives of all who have lived in Albany the last few generations,” Willigham said. “What a special privilege it has been to accompany you on this ride, to learn from you and watch you grow into the special woman you’ve become.”

Dorothy Williams, Rosa Maria Castillo-Kesper, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Elaine Frazier, Marleen Rivera, Fazana Saleem-Ismail, Carolyn McLaughlin, Legislator Lucille M. McKnight, Anne Pope

Also receiving a Woman of Distinction Award from Willingham was Fazana Saleem-Ismail, whose organization, Jazzy Sun Birthdays, throws birthday parties for children at homeless shelters. Saleem-Ismail also speaks to community groups about Islam and Islamophobia.

Deputy Majority Leader Alison McLean Lane led the ceremony in a moment of silence for Cynthia Shenker, a longtime Albany lobbyist who was honored at last year’s Legislative Women’s History Month event and passed away on Monday. McLean Lane then recognized Rosa Maria Castillo-Kesper, who served Governors Malcolm Wilson, Nelson Rockefeller, Hugh Carey, Mario Cuomo and George Pataki, as a Woman of Public Service.

Legislator Lynne Lekakis honoring Mayleen and Marleen Rivera

Also receiving Woman of Distinction Awards were: Dorothy Williams, recognized by Legislator Norma J. Chapman as a Woman of Senior Advocacy; Elaine Frazier, honored by Legislator McKnight as a Woman of Education; and Mayleen and Marleen Rivera, recognized by Legislator Lynne Lekakis as Women of Social Justice.

Deputy Chair Willingham concluded the event with closing remarks.

“Today, we at the Albany County Legislature had a chance to hear from and recognize several women who are rising above the challenges of inequality to make a big difference in every aspect of our lives,” she said. “We can’t forget that women are still combating unfair treatment, sexual harassment and abuse. But with mutual respect and the efforts of people such as those in this room, we can feel confident about a bright future ahead.”

Deputy Chair Wanda F. Willingham, Legislators Norma J. Chapman and Lynne Lekakis, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Deputy Majority Leader Alison McLean Lane and Legislator Lucille M. McKnight



Albany County Legis.

Led by its Democratic Majority, the Legislature establishes laws and government policy for #Albany County, New York.