By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart
Senator Lea Webb’s (LA ’01) favorite photo of herself incredibly foreshadows her life as a public official. In the photo, two-and-a-half-year-old Webb dons a shirt proclaiming, “Kids Are People Too!” The little girl, looking straight into the camera, with her hands placed confidently on her hips, looks as though she is saying, “Don’t worry. I’ve got this.” And she does.
Webb, a former Binghamton City Councilmember, began serving as the New York State Senator representing the 52nd district on January 1, 2023. In less than a year, Webb has impressively introduced 23 bills that were passed by both houses. She chairs the Senate Committee on Women’s Issues and is an active member of six additional committees, one task force, and one commission. Yet, she somehow manages to be a constant presence in the Southern Tier, never missing an opportunity to support a local event or initiative. Webb’s love for the community that raised her is abundantly evident, and that love graciously extends to her community’s college.
Lea Webb was born and raised on the South Side of Binghamton. From an early age, Webb’s parents instilled the value of volunteering within the community and led by example. Webb’s mother and father were naturally gifted grassroots organizers who served and empowered their respective circles. Her mother was drawn to supporting women and children, while her father played an integral role in the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) labor union.
As a young teen, Webb regularly volunteered with the Binghamton Outreach Center, which addressed food insecurity through a weekly bread program and annual Thanksgiving dinner distributions. When her mother wasn’t encouraging her to volunteer, she lovingly pushed Lea to explore through reading. Webb’s appetite for learning flourished through books and particularly fostered a passion for science.
Lea’s early exposure to volunteering – working to combat food insecurity and socio-economic instability – shaped her career goals.
“I wanted to help people improve their lives through science,” reflected Webb. “In my mind, that meant becoming a physician and very specifically, a pediatric neurosurgeon.”
When crafting her college list, Webb focused on four-year institutions that were away from the Southern Tier, but not too far away. Given those perimeters, SUNY Broome did not initially make the cut. That’s when Lea’s Binghamton High School counselor pulled her aside and explained the pros of attending her local community college.
“As a first-generation college student, I had no idea about the sequence or hierarchy of higher education,” reflected Webb. “I didn’t know about the bolstering effect that community colleges have on students. But thankfully, my school counselor did.”
Lea was selected to join SUNY Broome’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which provided supplemental academic, financial, and personal support throughout her academic career. As a Liberal Arts Sciences: Science student, Webb’s time on campus was spent bouncing between the Cecil C. Tyrrell Learning Resources Center (Library), the science labs, and the Learning Assistance Department. While she was active in the Student Assembly, academics were her top priority.
With her SUNY Broome degree in hand, Webb seamlessly transferred to Binghamton University to continue her studies in neuroscience. While at BU, Webb interned at Mothers & Babies Perinatal Network, a non-profit dedicated to promoting perinatal and maternal care. Through her work with the organization, Webb realized that she could make meaningful impacts in the community through professions other than those in health care. With a new appreciation for public health and public policy, Webb immediately accepted a position at Mothers & Babies upon graduating.
Webb’s next opportunity came via her alma mater, Binghamton University. Her work as a community advocate and trainer made her the ideal educator to develop diversity, equity, and inclusion training programs for the campus. Throughout this time, Webb was becoming more and more actively involved in the local political arena, particularly in support of promoting women into elected office.
At the urging of many, in 2008, Webb ran for a Binghamton City Council seat and was elected. Throughout her two consecutive terms as a councilmember, Lea devoted her attention to affordable and safe housing, local economic development, and equal pay. Her time with the Binghamton City Council was the ideal preparation for her current role as New York State Senator.
Though she is an undeniable presence in any room that she enters, Senator Webb is particularly vocal in the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, where she champions the value of her community’s college.
“I’m so proud to share that I am a community college graduate,” Webb explained. “Community colleges shepherd people into life changing opportunities. SUNY Broome certainly did for me.”
Were you inspired by Senator Lea Webb’s Story? Read more stories about our civically engaged alumni in the digital edition of BROOME Magazine!