“In late March, I got a cough, a hacking cough,” said state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, now recuperating at home from a narrow escape from COVID-19. “I didn’t think a lot about it.”
Then, “I started feeling quite fatigued and lethargic.”
Also suffering from a second cancer bout – the first was in 2016 – he went to Albany Medical Center Thursday, March 26, for routine chemotherapy.
“They always take your vital signs before: I was running a high fever,” he said in an interview Monday, April 27. He was tested for the coronavirus: “The next day, midday, it came back positive. They knew what it was.”
Other members of the state Senate and Assembly have acquired the virus, including state Rep. Brian Miller, R-New Hartford, who represents four Otsego County towns. (At St. Luke’s, Utica, he was taken off a ventilator this week after a month on the machine.)
“I have no idea where I picked it up,” said Seward. He noted one of his staff members – now fine – also tested positive, but, with the state Senate in session, “I didn’t spend much time in the (Oneonta) office.”
The day he tested positive, the senator’s chemo was cancelled. He reported to Albany Med’s emergency room. “Subsequently, I was admitted to the hospital,” he said.
“For a few days in the hospital, I was running a high fever. They gave me Tylenol; it would go down. Then it would go back up. After a few days, the doctors talked to me: that I should go to the ICU.”
He remembers little of what happened after that.
“I have no memory of being on the ventilator,” he said. “I was in an induced coma. I have no memory of that. Only what people have told me. What my family has told me.”
Over two days in the coma, “my numbers improved and they were able to take me off the ventilator. It was a relatively short time. Sometimes, the longer you’re on it, the worse it is.”
Back in a regular hospital room, his fever was gone. At first, he remained on oxygen, “to get my breathing back. By the time I left the hospital, I had been off oxygen for a day or two, walking about my room, anxious to get home.”
Originally expecting a single-day chemo treatment, the senator ended up spending 18 days hospitalized, from March 26 to April 13.
The senator said he agreed to an interview to be transparent to his constituents. A Milford native, Seward has represented the county in Albany for 35 years, announcing after the cancer returned that he will retire at the end of this year.
“It’s important to keep people informed,” he said. “I knew there was a lot of concern.”
For now, there’s “no timetable” for his recuperation. “I’m getting stronger every day,” he said. “For the foreseeable future, that’s the way it’s going to be.”
With what Governor Cuomo’s labeled “the PAUSE,” there are no events at the state Capitol. “It’s an opportunity for me to take advantage of this PAUSE – as it’s called – to regain my strength.”
Meanwhile, he’s working from home, participating in a lot of conference calls.
Last week, his office issued a press release, with Seward asking Governor Cuomo to release the necessary data – declining infection rates, for instance – so the Mohawk Valley Economic Development Region that includes Otsego County could begin preparing to wind down.
There’s also talk of resuming the legislative session – via Zoom. “I’ll be able to participate,” he said.
And he thanked all the people rooting for him.
“I am so thankful to, certainly my family, and for the outpouring of good will and prayers from so many people in this area,” he said. “I’ve been truly blessed with those good wishes and prayers.
DIGITAL EARTH FEST – 7 – 8 p.m. Celebrate our Earth from home, in dinner hour program to learn how to reduce food waste and your grocery bill through composting, planning, using odd parts of food & leftovers. Visit occainfo.org/calendar/
HEALTHCARE – 2 p.m. Online presentation ‘Start The Conversation: Thinking and Talking About Future Healthcare Decisions’ by Helios Care to celebrate National Healthcare Decisions Day. Register at www.helioscare.org/conversation
SPIRITUAL FAIR – Join live virtual summit featuring holistic practitioners from upstate New York walking participants through techniques including emotional freedom, meditation, yoga, much more to help relive the anxiety of the current historical moment. Join the Institute for Spiritual Development through Zoom or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/isdoneonta/
HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE – 8 a.m. Honor genocide awareness and prevention month with live reading from ‘Heroes of the Holocaust: Extraordinary True Accounts of Triumph’ as told to Arnold Geier. Read by Shanon, Director of the Harris Memorial Library. Visit www.facebook.com/harrislibrary/
ONEONTA – Nine community organizations, including Helios Care, Opportunities for Otsego and Catholic Charities, have received more than $65,000 in grants from the Community Foundation for South Central New York to help the fight against COVID-19.
“Typically, we support school districts, arts organizations and human services,” said Diane Brown, executive director. “But COVID-19 hit in the middle of our spring grant cycle, so we repurposed our funding.”
5K/10K RACE – 10:30 a.m. Virtual Cider Run 5K/10K race to benefit the Susquehanna SPCA by Fly Creek Cider Mill. Registration extended through May, 2. Cost, $25/adult, $15/child. Call 607-547-9692 or visit sqspca.org/8th-annual-cider-run/
VIRTUAL OPEN MIC – Evening. 15 local, regional performers celebrate ‘Triumph of the Spirit’ with original works, reinterpretations of classic pieces from original songs to Shakespearean monologues, short fictions, opera, more. Presented across Fenimore Art Museum social media platforms. Visit www.facebook.com/fenimoreartmuseum/
PHOTOGRAPHY CLASS – 10 a.m. Join photographer JW Johnston for 3 part class ‘Notion of Motion’ hosted on Zoom from the Huntington Memorial Library. Registration required. Visit www.facebook.com/hmloneonta/ for Info.
AUTHOR SERIES – 7 – 8 p.m. Join Zoom meeting with local author Deborah Blake where she discusses how she got her start, the topics she writes about, her different processes between fiction, non-fiction writing. Talk followed by Q&A session. Presented by Huntington Memorial Library. Visit www.facebook.com/hmloneonta/ for info.
MILFORD – A few weeks ago, the young mother of a newborn died – suddenly, before she and the baby’s dad could follow through on their intent to wed.
Already stricken, the young father discovered he had no legal claim on the little boy.
This is the kind of story state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, will tell you when asked about the most satisfying part of his 34 years in office: constituent service, helping the people of his 51st District.
Alerted to the dilemma, the senator’s staff sprang into action.
Saturday, Nov. 7, his daughter Lauren had just relayed a message: “Thank your father. I have my son in my arms.”
Seward was being interviewed – in the open air on his back porch in Milford, appropriately masked and socially distanced – on learning he’s receiving this year’s Eugene A. Bettiol Jr. Distinguished Citizen Award.
The award, from the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, was due to be presented, via Zoom, at
4:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, from the back lawn of The Otesaga.
He remembers the younger Bettiol’s effectiveness in promoting the former National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, and Foothills Performing Arts Center. “He loved Oneonta and our area,” Seward said.
And he remembers Bettiol’s father, Gene Bettiol Sr., the developer of Southside Oneonta, as “a father figure. That makes it extra special.”
Retiring at year’s end, the Bettiol Award – plus the Community Leadership Award, due Friday, Dec. 4, from the Boys Scout’s Leatherstocking Council, and no doubt more honors to come – has the senator, 69, who successfully fought both cancer and COVID-19 in the past year, thinking about the past – and the future.
Raised in the Cliff section of Goodyear Lake with a brother and two sisters, both their parents, Wes and Vivian, were involved in community life – he as a town assessor, she as tax collector.
Attending Valley View Elementary on Oneonta, “I was interested in what was going on in the world,” an interest encouraged by teachers John Clapp in fifth grade and Alice Edwards in sixth. And, at OHS, by future principal Bud Pirone.
As a teenager, the young Jim Seward began identifying role models: Clifford Seward (no relation), who as Milford town supervisor also served on the county board; and with Milford then-mayor June Hotaling.
He entered Hartwick College in 1969. With unrest about the Vietnam War all around him, “I gravitated toward the idea: You ought to have a seat at the table to get things done.”
The opportunity soon arose: In 1970, the Otsego County Republican Committee backed him for state Assembly against a sitting Republican, Harold Luther of Dolgeville. In the GOP primary, Seward lost, 45-55 percent.
Many successful political careers begin with a loss. “I got that out of the way,” he said. But he learned public-contact skills, and the importance of knowing people, of building a network of supporters.
He graduated in 1973 and married Cindy Milavec – the two had met as teenagers, while Jim, organizing Methodist youth groups, set up one in Schenevus – and two children, Ryan and Lauren, would follow.
Soon, he was working for Assemblyman Peter Dokuchitz of Oneonta, then state Sen. Charles Cook of Delhi and, by his mid-30s, for Senator Steve Riford of Auburn.
These were exciting years for the young couple. In 1976, Seward was a convention delegate for President Gerald Ford, and the Sewards found themselves at a reception in the East Wing of the White House, sipping champagne. (Ask Cindy Seward about the phone call in Milford from a mellifluous-voiced man who turned out to be candidate Ronald Reagan.)
As a legislative aide, the future senator also learned the lesson of constituent service. People don’t call up their senator or assemblyman lightly, he said, “people call legislative offices as a last resort.”
Then, unexpectedly in 1986, Riford announced his retirement. “You don’t plot or plan too much in the business,” Seward said. “You never know when opportunity will arise.”
After a hard-fought three-way primary, Seward dispatched the Democrat that November, entering the ornate state Capitol in Albany 34 years ago, as of this coming Jan. 1, 2021.
Senate Majority Leader Warren Anderson, the Binghamton Republican, tested the newcomer, soon naming him chairman of the Energy & Telecommunications Committee.
“It’s something you can sink your teeth into,” said the leader.
“I could get my teeth knocked out as well,” the young legislator said to himself.
In thanks, Seward also came up with the idea of calling I-88 the “Sen. Warren M. Anderson Expressway.” The leader had championed the Binghamton-to-Albany four-lane, which wags nicknamed “Anderson’s Driveway,” (even though, Seward said, Anderson usually flew back and forth to the state capital.)
A subsequent majority leader, Joe Bruno, picked Seward to join then-Assemblyman (now Congressman) Paul Tonko in co-chairing the first-ever conference committee on a stymied Power for Jobs bill.
The bill passed, making low-cost energy available for Upstate job growth.
In the early years, most of the complaints Seward received came from senior citizens struggling to pay skyrocketing school taxes.
In response, he crafted STAR – the school tax relief program – giving the elderly a break on school taxes.
“I remember getting a letter from a senior citizen,” he said, “saying, ‘The only reason I can afford to stay in my home is the STAR program’.”
Now, complainants are mostly asking for broadband.
In the last decade, Seward’s been particularly focused on bringing state funds here for economic development. When he convened his first “Seward Summit” on March 11, 2011, the county had received just $140,000 in such funding that year. Since, “we’ve been bringing in millions.”
While he’s pleased with the county’s economic diversity – the colleges, the hospitals, tourism – he’s worried about the million New Yorkers who have out-migrated from the Empire State in the past decade. “We need to come to terms with that,” he said.
Looking back, the senator finds some satisfaction in having been able to serve the county where he was born, raised, was educated and launched his career, assembling a lifetime worth of friends along the way.
“There are multiple counties in my district,” he said of the 51st. “But there’s something special about my home county.”
Retiring, he plans to complete his recuperation. But, he said, “there’s a role for me in moving our county and our region forward,” and he’s already looking at options.
ARTIST CONVERSATION – 8 p.m. Join Artist Luke Swinson, whose work is displayed in ‘dadibaajimo: Two Mississauga Artists Share Stories’ exhibit, for discussion of his art. Presented by Yager Museum of Art & Culture, Hartwick College, Oneonta. Visit www.facebook.com/yagermuseum/ for info.