A Hewlett Neck native who lives in Pennsylvania and played a pivotal role in the 2020 presidential election has had a penchant for making herself at home in new places.
As a young girl, Kathy Boockvar, 52, played in the Hewlett-Woodmere Little League along with her cousin Liza Boockvar and her two younger twin brothers, Danny and John. The oldest sibling is Kenny.
“Playing Little League on the boys’ team, it definitely got me started being a woman,” Boockvar said during a Zoom interview. “I have to give my dad and mom credit, I grew up with three brothers and no sisters, and they always treated me exactly the same.” Virginia “Ginger” is the mother and William, along with his brother Alan coached some of those teams. William was a local ophthalmologist who served as the eye doctor to many of Kathy’s friends. He died in 2009.
The brothers, Danny and John, told the identical story in separate interviews about their mischievous sister. The night Kathy, either a high school junior or senior, came home then snuck out of the house to meet friends. She climbed down a thorny holly tree and according to Danny caught holy hell from their parents. So when the twin brothers three years younger did the same thing, a few years later, they left a note so mom and dad would not worry.
Former fellow Hewlett High bandmate Caasi Glass Gelfond remembers Boockvar as being “super intelligent” and a “genuinely nice person.” “One thing I vividly remember is she came to my [high school] graduation party and brought the best gift ever,” Gelfond said, recalling the utility bucket with hand soap, shampoo, nuts and bolts, screws, hammer and screwdriver that she used dorming at SUNY Oneonta.
Boockvar, Hewlett High class of 1986, attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and in her words “fell in love” with the Keystone state and has lived there for roughly 27 years. Boockvar graduated with a law degree from American University's Washington College of Law in 1993.
“One of the things I loved in college is that you can literally walk the entire city in one day,” Boockvar said about Philadelphia, calling it “a city of neighborhoods.” “What nobody realizes about Pennsylvania are these gorgeous rural areas across the state that people who live in the urban areas don’t even know exist.” She highlighted what is called Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon in Tioga County in the north central section of the Commonwealth as one of those places.
Boockvar worked for Northern Pennsylvania Legal Services, a client-centered organization that provides legal services for low income and victims of domestic violence as her first job, then Lehigh Valley Legal Services. Her and husband, Jordan Yeager, then established a law practice. They have a daughter, Colette.
In 2008, Advancement Project, a nonprofit organization, hired Boockvar to do statewide voting rights work. For three years she traveled across Pennsylvania educating voters on their voting rights. That opened the door to her present job as Secretary of the Commonwealth for Pennsylvania, where she oversaw the vote recount in one of the most heavily contested presidential elections in the nation’s history.
“I didn’t sue anybody in that job,” she said. “I spent a lot of time sitting with election administrators, election directors at the county level. Sort of ironically I ended up doing a lot of that working with the Department of State.
Four years later the Democrats drafted her to run for Congress. Though Boockvar lost she said she enjoyed the experience and learned much about herself. “I love broad scale complex jobs and organizations, I love having a million balls in the air. Working on policy, working on communication, working on legislative priorities. A lot of different things all directed towards a purpose for the common good.”
So when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf asked her to be Secretary in 2019, she took the appointed post obviously not knowing that the quadruple whammy of the state enacting a major overhaul of its electoral process in 2019, a global pandemic, civil unrest and the most contested presidential election in the country’s history would collide last year.
“About two and half years ago we mandated that all the counties update their voting systems,” Boockvar said, noting the counties added a verifiable paper voting system, permitted anyone to vote by mail with many other changes, the most for Pennsylvania in 80 years. “If it wasn’t for the strength of those county election officials, the state folks and all our partners in election security and preparedness, it would not have been nearly successful.”
She said that 800,000 more Pennsylvania residents voted in the 2020 presidential election than ever voted in any election in the state. The state’s work stood the test of multiple recounts and lawsuits. For that Boockvar credits all the government levels and her team, including her deputy Jonathan Marks, who she said is one of the top people in the state on electoral issues and her communications director Wanda Murren.
Her calm in the storm approach to the election maelstrom has been a part of her since Boockvar was a young girl playing Little League baseball with and against boys. “A lot of the credit has to go to my parents,” John Boockvar said. “It wasn’t a big deal for a girl to be on the baseball team. Our mother was an athlete. I remember boys being scared of the hard ball hitting them. My sister never ducked from a ball that was high and tight.”
It is in his sister’s DNA to be “unflappable” Danny Boockvar said. “She’s been cleaning up boys’ messes since 1980-something,” he said, “it’s a muscle built early through playing sports and her legal training, fact-based, not to be distracted by disinformation.”
More than 20 years ago there was also a controversial presidential election that focused on the state of Florida that produced one documentary and one docu-drama. Should documentarians come calling what will Boockvar say in recalling her role that helped confirm that President Joe Biden did win the presidency.
“There’s so many ways this was unprecedented,” she said, later noting the Capitol Hill insurrection on Jan. 6. “Some good, some bad. And I hope what the documentaries end up saying and the stories they end up writing, once we have the benefit of looking back for example, the disinformation that has been one of the lows, the lies that have been deliberately spread to undermine people’s faith in our democratic process, I hope that we’ve hit the bottom on that and that we build from here.”