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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Judy Jacobs and Amy Hagedorn had pivotal local roles

Judith Jacobs, Democratic incumbent candidate for Nassau County

Judith Jacobs, Democratic incumbent candidate for Nassau County Legislature 16th District, poses for a portrait at the county's Legislative Building in Mineola on Monday, August 3, 2015. Credit: James Escher

Events, rather than personal ambitions, pushed both the politician and the philanthropist into pivotal local roles.

For the politician, Judy Jacobs, who died Tuesday, it was a political revolt in 1999 — which ended up giving Democrats control of Nassau’s legislature for the first time in 70 years.

For the philanthropist, Amy Hagedorn, who died last Friday, it was the commitment to press on alone — after the 2006 death of her husband, Horace, to see the couple’s passion/ for bettering Long Island through.

Each woman was a force for change, no matter how difficult, tangled or unpopular the issue. And together — and there were several instances when Jacobs and Hagedorn tag-teamed to get results — they won more than they lost.

Neither sought the limelight.

Nor did they seek confrontation, merely for confrontation’s sake. Both were gracious, kind and funny — but steely with resolve, whenever the need arose.

Jacobs, who started out as a civic activist in Woodbury, did not change when she came to power. Hagedorn, who came up with modest means, did not change when she came into wealth.

“Amy would give her cellphone number and her email address,” said Darren Sandow, who began work with the Hagedorn Foundation — which ultimately would fund more than 400 projects on Long Island — back when Horace was alive, and now serves as director.

“To her, the people the foundation funded were partners in making this a better place,” Sandow said. “To her, her partners were her equals.”

Hagedorn put her effort, and foundation funding, into causes from immigration reform to conservation. And on many issues, she was ahead of her time.

Take plastic bag waste, which the Suffolk legislature moved to address last week by passing legislatin to support a 5-cent fee for such bags, beginning in 2018. Hagedorn, years ago, agreed to lend her support to what Sustainable Long Island officials lovingly dubbed the “Bag-O-Dorn” — a sock-like plastic bag recycling sleeve.

Her proudest philanthropic moment? That would have been the 2013 Council of Foundations’ Robert W. Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking — which was awarded not to Hagedorn, but to Sandow. “She was so excited and proud that this little family foundation would be so honored,” Sandow said.

Jacobs shining turn?

“You will remember that when NIFA was first established Nassau County bonds were trading as junk and there was talk of bankruptcy,” Frank Zarb, the first chairman of the state control board, said Wednesday. “It took unprecedented bipartisan support to get the situation under control. “Judy Jacobs was there when we needed her to get the job done, no political questions asked.”

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who back then headed the Nassau Democratic Party, remembers that time well.

“Judy’s real moment was in 2000, when she became presiding officer,” DiNapoli said. “She had the respect from all sides during the crisis, and the determination that kept them working together.”

DiNapoli once asked Jacobs if she wanted to be county executive. She turned him down, he said.

Like Hagedorn, Jacobs never had the need to reach higher.

They served Long Island, admirably and well, from right where they were.


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