At 22, Martinez elected Newburgh councilwoman

Giselle Martinez ’20 of Newburgh, N.Y. recently returned to her alma mater to discuss her journey from graduate to local political candidate. She told the audience of current Mount students about her love for Newburgh and her plans to improve the city where she grew up.

Just four days later, she won the election, becoming a councilmember for Newburgh City Council, Ward 1. At 22 years old, Martinez is one of the youngest people to ever fill the role.

When Martinez, a first-generation college student, earned a bachelor’s degree from the Mount, throwing her hat into Newburgh’s political ring wasn’t initially in her plans. During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Martinez worked with several local nonprofit organizations to get food, face coverings, and other essentials to those in need.

“I grew up in this community and I’ve always loved this community...I went out a lot on days where I probably shouldn’t have…but all I could keep thinking about was how there’s so many families around me that don’t have food.”

When Councilwoman Karen Mejia announced that she would not be seeking reelection, Martinez began to wonder who could fill the shoes of a leader she had always admired. The answer quickly became clear: She would run for Mejia’s seat on the city council. 

“If I didn’t do it, then who was going to?” Martinez asked. “I had enough experience at this point working for the state government. I figured that I had enough empathy because I grew up in this community.”

In mid-2019, Martinez wrapped up a semester in Albany as the session assistant for Senator Jessica Ramos (D), Senate District 13. The internship offered talented students such as Martinez an immersive experience in the legislative process, including legislation development, legislative sessions, and interacting with constituents. It also led her to a job working for Assemblymember Jonathan Jacobson (D-Newburgh).

The Martinez campaign was a grassroots effort, with her and her supporters meeting face to face with the people of Newburgh. The work was exhausting, she said, but “I don’t regret a single day of it.” 

In the end, her campaign paid off, and Martinez won the democratic primary in June 2021. Her election win followed on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.

As a Mount student, Martinez was active on campus. She was president of the Latino Student Union, a resident assistant, and consistently made the college’s Dean’s List. A student of the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), she attended leadership development conventions throughout the U.S.; served the community; mentored her peers; and more. 

Martinez had some simple advice for her audience: “Say yes to all your opportunities and take a risk,” she said. “A lot of my best experiences on and off campus have been because I decided to say yes to [taking a risk].”

She added, “Treat everyone with respect and kindness. Everything you put out there…comes back to you tenfold.

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