Amy Paulin remembers what it was like to be a young teen, full of ideas and ready to take action to make the world a better place. She also remembers she wasn’t taken all that seriously until she was “an adult in Scarsdale.” That could explain her immediate connection first with Jack Waxman, and then with his younger brother, Michael.
“They’re both very active in everything that concerns their world,” Paulin said. “That’s how I began as a 14-year-old in high school so I identified with them.”
That was the late 1960s/early 1970s. Since 2001, Paulin, who had previously served on the Scarsdale Village Board of Trustees, has been the New York State Assemblywoman for the 88th District, which includes Scarsdale, where she raised her three children. Growing up in Brooklyn, Paulin began her journey trying to bring an environmental issue to the local Democratic Club. “They said, ‘We’ll form some youth thing,’ because they needed to kind of get rid of me,” said Paulin, who responded by bringing in a group of other motivated high school students, who ended up being very active in campaigns, which, of course, made her no longer a burden, but an asset.
Later in life Paulin also learned from her own children, now adults, that as youngsters they had beliefs and views and they needed mentors to make those a reality.
“When I see youth like this who want to be involved I encourage it,” Paulin said. “If we don’t encourage their enthusiasm and encourage their ideas our future is going to be a lot dimmer…
“I wanted to make sure that my office was welcoming because I had ideas back then and I don’t think I had an opportunity to really share them. I didn’t have negative experiences, but I really didn’t have positive ones either. It was kind of neutral.”
The Waxman brothers have both come knocking at Paulin’s office door, and she not only welcomed them and their ideas, but she embraced them locally and in Albany.
Jack, a 2018 Scarsdale High School graduate, was an intern for United States Senator from New York Chuck Schumer in 2017 and was required to write a policy paper. He didn’t want something “obvious.” “I just wanted to find something that could have an impact that was overlooked by adults and policymakers, so I spent the whole summer researching this problem which I had seen as a junior at Scarsdale High School,” Jack said. “It impacted my two best friends, who got addicted to this product.”
Jack studied e-cigarettes, which were gaining in popularity among young people, and found 2009’s Family Smoking Tobacco Control and Prevention Act by U.S. Representative from California Henry Waxman — no relation — which allowed the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the tobacco industry. Schumer was so impressed with Waxman’s work, that he included him in a press conference on the issue in October 2017.
“That was a really special moment for me because I had spent so much time working on this issue and it was so important and now I was able to stand with one of the most impactful, most powerful policymakers in the country,” Jack said.
It was now in lawmakers’ hands, but Waxman kept up the fight through individual and group efforts and later brought banning online sales of e-cigarettes to Paulin in the winter of 2018, his final semester at SHS.
Jack went to see Paulin at Vernon Hills Shopping Center with Jay Genova, executive director of Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Service, who gave him the mentorship he needed to meet with his local representative. Paulin already had a bill aimed at banning flavored cigars, so in the end, after being educated more, Paulin and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal of District 67 in Manhattan, both influenced by Waxman, presented side-by-side bills achieving everyone’s goals.
Jack called it “a really big public health win for the state of New York.”
Both bills passed as part of the general budget and other bills have passed over the last two years, including banning flavored e-cigarettes, raising the legal smoking and vaping age to 21 and banning the sale of tobacco in pharmacies.
“I guess I never had really thought about what was going on in our own high school in Scarsdale,” Paulin said. “I learned what was going on from Jack and, of course, when it’s your own school where my three children went to school and I learned of the concerns I was moved by that. I was influenced by that.”
Jack’s influence didn’t go unnoticed as lawmakers touted his efforts. “He got to be pretty well known in the Capitol among my colleagues, particularly the ones that cared about this particular issue,” Paulin said. “But as a result of his involvement and his work, there became much more of an awareness.”
Advocates are crucial, according to Jack: “In order for the government to properly function, policymakers need citizens — they need youth, they need adults — to meet with them to let them know what their priorities are and what the problems are. Policymakers are really good at solving problems, but in order to solve problems they need to know what those problems are.”
Jack is now on the other side as advocacy groups are signing up to meet with him while he takes a gap year from Cornell, where he is majoring in government and economics, and working in Ithaca for new Assemblywoman Dr. Anna Kelles of District 125.
“They have a wealth of knowledge on these topics,” Jack said of the groups. “It’s not just e-cigarettes or climate change — it’s solitary confinement, aspects of marijuana, investing in the budget. There are so many issues and for any young person it’s their responsibility, their opportunity to engage with their policymakers so they can solve that problem.”
Runs in the family
Paulin was not surprised to meet Michael, now a senior, last year when he came to her on the issue of carbon tax (paid by businesses that produce carbon dioxide), which “morphed” into the similar carbon pricing bill.
“The name reflected the issue at the time,” Paulin said. “It’s changed in its way of approaching the same thing, which is charging for the price of carbon to influence positively the renewable market and the decrease in fossil fuels. When Michael came I wasn’t unfamiliar with the issue because I had been the energy chair for four years.”
Paulin had already been approached about the issue, but she was about to end her term as energy chair and figured the new chair would take it on. When it bounced around without any progress, Paulin eventually took it on full throttle after talking to Michael.
During COVID there’s been a lot more time to work on complex issues and this one is one of those issues,” Paulin said.
Paulin worked alongside conservation groups like New York Independent System Operator to turn the carbon pricing bill into something the governor would get behind.
“The governor was opposed to it because he would have no control over the revenue at the end of the day if it was all market-based, but also by making it all market-based, the money would only go to landlords, not tenants and often tenants pay the utility bills,” Paulin said. “We needed to refocus it also for that reason and so I crafted this proposal.”
While waiting for New York to pass the bill, Michael has been trying to take his own initiative federal, working on carbon fee and dividend lobbying, which would “put a fee on carbon at the top of the supply chain and return all the money to the American people. We think that’s the kind of baseline policy the country needs right now to cut emissions.”
Michael’s current goal is to build relationships with new state Congressmen Mondaire Jones and Jamaal Bowman. He called it a “slow process,” a “continuous process.”
“I’ve seen Jack have his breakthroughs and I know breakthroughs ultimately come,” Michael said. “You just have to stick with it.”
Michael’s passion for the environment came unexpectedly at the Holocaust and Human Rights Conference at Iona College. He was a delegate from SHS as a sophomore and in a group icebreaker he learned from a peer just how fragile the environment is.
“By the time junior year rolled around I knew a lot about the issue and it was time to do something” Michael said. “I started with the individual actions, which are important when it comes to climate change. I am very old for my grade, so I’ve been driving since March of sophomore year. I stopped driving and got a bike for my birthday on August 29 and started riding to school. It’s very easy, .8 miles. That was my first step as an individual. Then I had to compost, so I reached out to Michelle [Sterling] and Ron [Schulhof] and got my kit.”
As class president he wanted to start doing something on a larger scale and he again reached out to community leaders Michelle Sterling and Ron Schulhof, who had already implemented composting bins in the school lunchroom.
“However, most people weren’t adhering to the different bins,” Michael said. “They needed some compost monitors and I somehow began running this compost crew. Michelle and Ron were coming in because we needed some adults there. It was very difficult to be standing by a compost bin during lunch. It did work well and we made a little difference.”
Around the same time in September 2019, the climate strikes were being organized around the country and the class government considered doing an “educational initiative,” but with a day or two to prepared they decided to do a “climate stand” before school, which attracted about 100 students showing up.
“It was a really good day to see that 24 hours with enough people with enough passion who cared about something, we could make a little difference,” Michael said. “Having seen what Jack had done in the real government I had the perfect person to follow in that regard. Seeing what Jack did senior year of high school, he showed me everything and definitely gave me the confidence to become an advocate for the things that I care about.”
The Waxman brothers are constantly talking about issues they are passionate about and holding book clubs to educate themselves and others.
“I don’t know if I would have become an advocate for the issues I care about if it hadn’t been for Jack,” Michael said.
“It’s really part of the culture of our family,” Jack said.
Paulin relies on “dogged and knowledgeable” influencers like the Waxmans.
“The more people you bring into your little orbit the more ideas you are going to be exposed to and the more you can accomplish as a result,” Paulin said, who also stated, “Not only do the Scarsdale adults have an impact on all the things we do, these young people in Scarsdale are so impressive and so the Waxman family alone has made two bills, one of which is already law.”