Off the Northway: Scramble on to represent North Country

Adirondack residents will be losing a respected voice in Albany next year.

Adirondack residents will be losing a respected voice in Albany next year.

Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, a Republican who lives in the Champlain Valley, announced a week ago she won’t run again, after representing the 113th Assembly District for the last decade.

Along with state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, she’s been a key voice in the Legislature for the plight of rural communities, in opposition to heavy-handed regulation, and on other issues that furrow Adirondack brows.

The district covers Essex, Warren and Hamilton counties and the northern tip of Saratoga County. Redistricting seems unlikely to have a big impact on the district’s design.

So far, five Republicans and at least one Democrat have expressed interest in running for Sayward’s seat.

Queensbury Town Supervisor Dan Stec, who is chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, looks like the GOP’s leading candidate, according to political insiders.

The basic argument: He’s from the largest town in the district’s largest county; he’s been supervisor for nearly a decade, so he’s paid his dues; and he’s 43, young enough to have a career in state politics. By background, he’s an industrial engineer, trained in analysis.

Half of Queensbury is located inside the Adirondack Park, and Stec’s been active in Adirondack local government circles since he was elected supervisor in 2003.

Stec said the heavy land-use regulations in the Adirondacks add to the economic and regulatory burdens felt by everyone in New York state, and that’s what’s leading to employers not wanting to locate there, young people leaving and a general economic stagnation.

“One of the most important things is to recognize the reality on the ground now,” Stec said. “There needs to be a better balance.”

Stec also knows the Adirondacks through his soles: Last summer, after losing more than 100 pounds, he started a hiking regimen. He climbed all 46 of the High Peaks within a six-month period.

“I’m personally proud of that,” he said.

Other names that are being circulated in Republican circles: Robert Regan of Glens Falls, who was mayor of that city from 1998 to 2005; Moriah Town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava; and Thurman Supervisor Evelyn Wood. Doug Hoffman, the Saranac Lake accountant who ran two years ago against 23rd District U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, also has made some calls to GOP leaders.

By enrollment, the district is heavily Republican, but there may also be a Democrat in the race. Jay Supervisor Randy Douglas, chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors, is considering a run. He got some favorable attention as a skillful advocate after Jay was devastated by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene last August.

There also are certain advantages to being represented by a Democrat, since they hold the majority in the Assembly, but Adirondackers aren’t really familiar with them.

Speaking of Owens, the Plattsburgh Democrat could end up representing the northern half of Saratoga County under the federal court proposal for new congressional districts.

One GOP leader said Matt Doheny, a Watertown businessman who was Owens’ Republican challenger in 2010, may be interested in running again.

With each member of Congress now needing to represent about 700,000 people, a geographically coherent district could stretch from the Champlain Valley to Lake Ontario, and from Massena to Milton. At least everyone in that district would know that Old Man Winter isn’t what he used to be.

Does a congressman from Watertown or Plattsburgh representing one of the fastest-growing counties in the state seem ridiculous? No more so than someone from southern Dutchess County doing it, I say. I can’t name any mythical beast that the 20th Congressional District looks like, and there’s no geographical unity I can fathom.

North to south, it’s the longest congressional district in the state — and Congressman Chris Gibson has the Goodyear bills to prove it. But if someone from Clinton or Jefferson counties has the Adirondacks and northern Saratoga County next year, they’ll be subsidizing a tire company, too.

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