Shaffer grew up on a family farm in Blenheim, NY, and attended a one-room schoolhouse there. She graduated from Gilboa-Conesville Central School in 1966 as valedictorian of her class. Awarded a full scholarship to Elmira College for women, she graduated as class valedictorian 1n 1970, and a Phi Beta Kappa member, with a B.A. summa cum laude in Political Science. She studied abroad for her junior year at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques (Sciences-Po)of the University of Paris, France. She spent a semester of her senior year on a kibbutz in Israel, studying the kibbutz as a socioeconomic and political unit.
She worked in publishing as an editor before entering public life in the 1970s. She served as a town supervisor for two years and then became special assistant to Peter A. A. Berle, NY State Commissioner of Environmental Conservation. She later served as the Executive Director of the state Rural Affairs Council, which was chaired by then Lieutenant Governor Mario Cuomo.
Shaffer was elected in 1980, as a Democrat representing a five-county, predominantly Republican district to the New York State Assembly serving in 1981 and 1982, In November 1982, she was re-elected with 68% of the vote , but did not take her seat in the 185th New York State Legislature. She was instead appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo as Secretary of State of New York, and took office on January 1, 1983.
The longest tenured Secretary of State in New York history, she served twelve years during Cuomo's three terms as governor January 1, 1983 – January 4, 1995, when she was replaced by Republican Alexander Treadwell. She was a delegate to the 1988, 1992 and 2004 Democratic National Conventions.
She went into the private sector, serving as national President and CEO of Business & Professional Women / USA in Washington, DC (1997-2001), focused on economic equity for women, including workplace issues such as pay equity, family leave, fair minimum wage, Social Security and pension reform. Returning to New York, she served as President and CEO of the Brooklyn Historical Society (2001 - 2003). She returned to the family farm where she still resides, and is a freelance writer and commentator on public policy issues, and continues as an active volunteer advocate in a multitude of progressive issues.
In September 2015 she attempted to run for town supervisor of the Town of Blenheim. Shaffer was defeated by incumbent attorney Shawn J. Smith (D) in the Democratic Caucus held on September 10, 2015. Although Shaffer remains a Democrat, she was endorsed by the town's Republican party for Supervisor. She was narrowly defeated by Smith (by 10 votes) in the general election. Shaffer ran a General Election campaign based on ethics reform issues against Smith, but Smith defeated her in the general election on November 5, 2015.
Shaffer remains an active Democrat, as a member of the Schoharie County Democratic Committee, and continues as an activist on issues including government reform, environmental quality, women's rights, civil rights, consumer rights and economic equity.
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Arlington P. Van Dyke
| New York State Assembly
| Secretary of State of New York