Politician, mentor May Newburger dies at 92

Retired Town Supervisor May Newburger speaks after a Retired Town Supervisor May Newburger speaks after a plaque was dedicated in her name at North Hempstead's Eleventh Annual Women's Roll of Honor Breakfast in New Hyde Park. (March 25, 2004) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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May Newburger, a former Democratic state assemblywoman and North Hempstead Town supervisor who mentored many prominent Long Island, state and national leaders, died Thursday at her home from complications of cancer. She was 92.

Newburger's life was a who's who of American politics. Earlier this month, Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Gary Ackerman paid a visit to Newburger at her Great Neck home -- crediting her with leaving an indelible mark on their careers and lives.

"You met May Newburger, you knew you met her," Ackerman said. "She was a mother to everybody in the business that I knew, including me."

Scores of politicians and leaders count Newburger among their chief influences, including Assemb. Michelle Schimel, who first met Newburger when Schimel was a community organizer.

"She was on speed-dial on my phone," Schimel said. "Everyone in politics on Long Island, on both sides of the aisle, learned something from her . . . She was a trailblazer."

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who also counted Newburger as a mentor, called her death "the loss of one of Long Island's truly iconic political leaders."

Born in Springfield, Mass., on Jan. 22, 1920, Newburger was raised by her mother and an aunt, and lived for a time in Cuba before returning to New York and graduating from Hunter College at 18, friends of the family said.

Early on, Newburger's life was touched by greatness. She saw Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play for the Yankees in 1928, met Eleanor Roosevelt and arranged for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak in Great Neck.

In her political debut, she ran unsuccessfully for the New York State Senate in 1976, describing herself in a Newsday interview as "a citizen-politician and a former migrant political worker."

Two years later, she won a seat in the State Assembly, a post she held until 1986. She joined the North Hempstead Town Council in 1992 and served as town supervisor from 1994 to 2003.

In the legislature and town hall, Newburger was on the forefront of environment protection, women's rights and other contentious issues, friends said.

Arthur Gianelli, president and chief executive of the NuHealth System, began his career as Newburger's deputy after working on her town supervisor campaign. He recalled her as a charismatic, innovative woman who pulled no punches.

"If she felt passionately about it, she was going to say it," Gianelli said. "Because it was her, she could get away with it."

Another protege is current North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, who won the seat after Newburger stepped down. "She was an extraordinary lady," he said. "She was just a woman of strength and dignity and integrity."

Newburger is survived by her son, Peter, of Great Neck. Her husband, Jack, predeceased her in 1978. A memorial service is planned for the end of September.

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