Schenectady County Legislator Jim Buhrmaster on Wednesday entered the race for the 21st Congressional District as the first Republican to declare, but immediately positioned himself as an independent.
Buhrmaster, 62, is president of Buhrmaster Energy Group, a fourth-generation, locally owned and operated company based in Glenville.
A Republican, Buhrmaster said he would go to Congress in Washington, D.C., to represent taxpayers, not a political party, if elected. “I can assure you when it comes to addressing the issues that concern us all, I won’t be looking for the Democrat or Republican solution. I will be looking for the solution that makes the best sense for taxpayers and folks back home.”
Republican Party officials said his approach could prove effective in the district, where Democrats hold a 50,000-enrollment advantage.
“He is saying what a lot of people are saying, that there is a large number of independent voters disillusioned with both major parties,” said Art Brassard, Republican election commissioner for Schenectady County.
Tom Buchanan, chairman of the Schenectady County Republican Committee, said Buhrmaster is a breath of fresh air. “His independence is exactly why he can win. He is an outsider running a non-traditional campaign. He is not partisan, he is a problem-solver.”
Buhrmaster said his record in the Schenectady County Legislature supports his platform of independence.
“It isn’t one party, it is both parties together that are responsible for the gridlock in Washington. Whether or not it is popular, it is my message,” Buhrmaster said.
Buhrmaster’s announcement Wednesday was made inside a garage on the Buhrmaster Energy company lot. He called himself a small business owner first, “an American and an upstate New Yorker who is fed up over what is happening.”
When he hit traditional Republican themes, like supporting American soldiers, the audience clapped enthusiastically. The audience was silent when he said America should bring home troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Buhrmaster also linked himself with Rep. Michael McNulty, D-Green Island, who currently holds the 21st Congressional District seat. McNulty announced last October he would retire when his term ends in January year after serving 20 years in Congress.
Buhrmaster called McNulty a long-time family friend and someone he will talk to frequently during his campaign. He said he views things the same as McNulty, but will always part ways with any party on key issues. “My votes are what I think are correct for the community and my constituents,” he said.
Paul Tocker, a Republican who ran for the same congressional seat 30 years ago, said Buhrmaster is the real deal. “He is our best hope for retaking this seat.”
A number of Buhrmaster Energy employees attended their boss’ news event, including Eric Seyse. Seyse is the son of former Scotia Mayor William Seyse, a Democrat, and Buhrmaster’s nephew. “I came here to listen to him,” said Seyse. “He’s a great boss.”
Seyse said he may even vote for Buhrmaster this November. “Why not?”
Buhrmaster said he decided to run after speaking with his wife, Sandra, and his four sons and their families. “My wife said it was time. She felt I had the credentials and experience to make a change in Washington.”
Buhrmaster was re-elected to a second four-year term in the county Legislature in District 3 last year. He is chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, treasurer of the Schenectady County Industrial Development Agency and a member of Scotia-Glenville Republican Committee.
Five Democrats have entered the race: Tracey Brooks, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton; Lester Freeman, the city of Albany’s Equal Employment Opportunity officer; Gary Mittleman, former Plug Power CEO; Darius Shahinfar, an Albany attorney and former aide to Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand; and Phil Steck, Colonie Democratic chairman.
The large number of Democrats in the race means there will likely be an expensive primary fight. Brassard said this would help Buhrmaster: “He can campaign right now while the others battle it out.”
McNulty’s congressional district consists of parts of Fulton, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties and all of Albany, Montgomery, Schenectady and Schoharie counties.
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