SCHENECTADY — State Sen. Jim Tedisco wants to rein in spending, aggressively prepare for the next wave of the pandemic and restore a sense of checks and balances to state government.
Thearse McCalmon, his Democratic challenger, is calling for single-payer health care, relief for dairy farmers and is supportive of criminal justice reforms.
And she says the two couldn’t be more opposite.
“His campaign is mostly campaign showboating, photo-ops and whatever the party says,” McCalmon said. “My campaign is about the people, always.”
The two are squaring off for Senate District 49, which covers an area from Schenectady north and west into the Adirondacks.
McCalmon’s effort to topple Tedisco comes after she came close to unseating Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy in last year’s Democratic primary.
Tedisco, a Republican, has long been a fixture in local politics, having represented the Schenectady region in the state Assembly for more than three decades before being elected to his current position in 2016 following the retirement of long-time GOP senator Hugh T. Farley.
Tedisco is a sharp critic of bail reform, which eliminated cash bail for misdemeanors, many non-violent felonies and some violent crimes, resulting in a number of instances in which people accused of crimes as serious as bank robbery and manslaughter have been released without bail pending further court proceedings.
Those charged with misdemeanors are given tickets for court appearances.
Tedisco, who is seeking a second term, contends that the release of violent criminals presents a threat to public safety, and has called for more judicial discretion.
“Another thing it does is stereotype law enforcement officials,” Tedisco said.
Tedisco, with state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, has co-sponsored a bill to give judges more discretion on setting bail.
McCalmon called GOP opposition to bail reform “fear-mongering,” batting back criticism that the reforms have led to criminals roaming the streets.
“Police officers are not crime-stoppers,” McCalmon said. “They’d have to be completely psychic to be crime-stoppers.”
Amid nationwide discussion over police reform, McCalmon also called for more training and de-escalation techniques for officers.
Police are overburdened, she said, and shouldn’t be forced to be social workers.
The district carves a swatch through rural areas, including portions of Saratoga and Herkimer counties, as well as Hamilton and Fulton.
Recent state rules that guarantee farm workers overtime pay after reaching a certain threshold under the Farm Fair Labor Practices Act hurt farmers, Tedisco said.
“It’s not a 9 to 5 job,” Tedisco said.
For the past year, the state Department of Labor has been convening a Farm Laborers Wage Board to hold hearings and make recommendations as to overtime work and overtime threshold for farm laborers.
A report is due at the end of the year.
“That’s going to be a disaster,” Tedisco said.
The state, he said, needs to help farmers with milk pricing.
“We need to make sure family farmers still exist in New York state and not sell their property to solar farms,” he said.
McCalmon said she’s no stranger to rural issues after serving as campaign manager for Patrick Nelson’s unsuccessful 2018 attempt to secure the Democratic nomination for the congressional district seat held by Rep. Elise Stefanik.
Rural residents have the same concerns as city dwellers, she said, including good jobs and affordable housing.
McCalmon said she spent a lot of time talking with dairy farmers who were already struggling pre-COVID but are now in a deeper hole as demand has plummeted and they are frustrated at what they perceive as a lack of state and federal support.
Stable farms are essential for strong communities, she said.
“Once the pandemic hit, that was the end,” McCalmon said. “If we don’t support small farmers and our dairy farmers, we don’t eat.”
McCalmon said she’s had to pare down traditional campaign events, but has been conducting Zoom calls and wellness checks since the beginning of the pandemic, asking people what they need, from masks and food to ensuring they received their stimulus checks.
“We were the first campaign to have a COVID resource page on our website,” McCalmon said.
Tedisco said he’s focused on ensuring the state is well-prepared for an uptick this winter, and has been a sharp critic of how Gov. Andrew Cuomo has handled the pandemic, particularly when it comes to the virus’ spread in nursing homes.
Voters are heading to the polls amid an uptick in cases across the state and Capital Region.
“We want to know what happened and what is the plan if this raises itself again,” Tedisco said.
As the state claws its way back from recession, he wants to rein in spending, including $420 million in tax credits for film production.
“We have a tax and spending problem in New York state, and the real indication is 180,000 New Yorkers left the state under this regime last year,” Tedisco said. “No. 1 in net migration for all 50 states.”
He also said he’s always been a strong advocate for schools to receive their full amount of Foundation Aid, which is the main source of funding for public schools.
McCalmon supports single-payer health care, and the New York Health Act, which would enroll all residents in a state-provided plan.
People not having health insurance amid a pandemic is problematic, she said.
“Bringing it down to zero coming out of the pandemic is something we need to do,” McCalmon said.
Tedisco said costs are too high, and pointed at Vermont’s failed effort at a state-run program.
“They went bankrupt,” he said.
Tedisco said he is in favor of health care savings accounts, which would draw in people at a younger age, and tort reform which would reduce medical costs.
The League of Women Voters: Saratoga County hosted a debate between the candidates Wednesday which can be viewed on YouTube: