Ryan Horstmyer is the newly elected Town of Colonie Democratic Party chairman. He is a partner with Shenker Russo & Clark, a government affairs law firm out of Albany where he also focuses on campaign finance compliance. Prior to that, he was U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko’s district director. In 2001, when he was just 18, he made a run for Town Board when Colonie was the unwavering bastion of Republican strength in Albany County. Six years later, he was appointed and then elected to the District 25 seat on the Albany County Legislature representing Loudonville, Latham and Newtonville. He and his wife, Tess, recently purchased and moved into a home in Latham.
Q: You have been involved with politics since a very young age. Who or what got you interested in a field so many people scorn?
A: When I was much younger, I remember carrying around a book about American presidents. Their lives fascinated me and my parents encouraged my interest. When I got to Shaker High School, I joined the Model UN Club and participated in the week-long Presidential Classroom in Washington. I went on to UAlbany’s Rockefeller College and received a degree in Public Policy, and then on to Albany Law School.
My dad was a local news reporter and he would take me along to local political stories. My older brother would accompany him when covering crime stories. My brother now has a successful career in law enforcement and I entered the political arena.
My biggest political mentor has been Shirley Brown, who successfully managed many local races during her career and eventually became first vice-chair of our county Democratic Committee. Shirley met with me before I graduated from high school. And 20 years ago this December, she invited me to my first Colonie Democratic Committee meeting. I’ve been supporting the party and she’s been a dear friend ever since.
Q: The country has not been this divided in decades if ever. As a political leader, how would you bring us back together?
A: The one value my mother tried to instill in me, my sister, and brother, probably more than any other, has been kindness. I think the beloved Mister Rogers, someone who hopefully each of your readers had the chance to welcome into their homes on television, would say the same thing. And I’ve tried hard to live by that.
Of course, we will always see disagreement in politics. But that’s healthy in a democracy, and kindness does not mean avoiding disagreement. It also does not mean avoiding either difficult conversations or taking a stand and doing what we believe is right. But it does mean avoiding cutting and ill-informed words.
Kindness also means generosity with time and attention. It means welcoming people, understanding their needs, and trying to help where possible. So, as a political leader, I’m going to build a committee that’s focused on reaching out to people and listening first, and supporting campaigns that use the common sense ideas we learn about.
Q: Colonie has been in your party’s hands for the last dozen years but the new Albany County Republican chairman said it is a town he is targeting. What are you going to do to ensure Town Hall remains under the Democratic Party control.
A: Colonie residents know that electing strong Democratic representation has produced a high quality of life, safe streets, and higher property values. We are going to keep advancing our agenda to ensure Colonie is a great place to live, work, raise a family, and retire.
Perhaps the most important way we’re going to carry that message is by welcoming new volunteers and getting everyone involved. We will constantly work on growing the party everywhere.
Q: What is your favorite part about living in Colonie. Least favorite?
A: Favorite part: Colonie is just an all-around nice and easy place to live. It’s near everything. We have great parks. My wife, Tess, and I very much appreciate its affordability. And I know the quality of the schools, since I’m a graduate of one of the districts.
Least favorite part: I wish they would prioritize Buffalo Bills’ games on TV around here each Sunday instead of Jets and Patriots games. But in all seriousness, Tess and I love to go for walks, and I think COVID has given many of us a new appreciation of the outdoors, so seeing more pedestrian infrastructure would be great. But we know it’s an expensive undertaking, and our local governments are making good progress, so we have more to look forward to. Besides, our new neighborhood is a good place to walk, and we have great trails close by.
Q: If there is anyone you could have lunch with, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
A: Rich Jacobson. He was the Colonie Democratic town chairman from 2008 until he passed away in 2016. He was a generous, principled, and patient leader, and he was one of my best friends. I think a lot of people would say that about him. He did a lot of good for others. He was also a genius — he knew language as well as anyone I’ve ever met, so he was always teaching me something.
I’d want him to know we were continuing his work and I’d want to know what he would think about it.
If you know anyone who would make an interesting Five Questions feature contact Jim Franco at 518-878-1000 or via email at [email protected]