New York state Senators James Tedisco and Peter Oberacker are in a primary fight that neither Republican would like to be in.
“I’m not disappointed in the idea of the primary,” said Oberacker, R-Schenevus. “I’m disappointed by the fact that the majority has created this situation of taking two exceptional senators and, in essence, trying to pit one against the other.”
Tedisco shared similar sentiments.
“That’s what this is all about: Match up two guys who like each other, two guys who are friends, two guys who have like philosophies.”
The primary race is happening as a result of redistricting that has shifted Tedisco, R-Glenville, out of the 49th New York state Senate District and into the newly redrawn 51st state Senate district. That new district spans from Glenville and Rotterdam in Schenectady County west to Chenango County and goes from Herkimer and Fulton counties in the north down to Otsego and Schoharie counties. Democrats have defended the redrawn maps as being fair and representative.
Tedisco said he feels targeted by the redrawn maps, and he thinks it’s because he’s outspoken on issues ranging from bail reform to government mandates to voter ID laws. But he’s confident he can prevail.
“I’ve been through several redistrictings, and every one of them they tried to gerrymander me out. And you know what? I made friends in every one of them. I told them who Jim Tedisco was. I told them what I stood for, I told them I’d fight for them,” Tedisco said. “They want to beam out guys like me who stand up and speak out. I’m not going to stop standing up.”
While the redistricting maps are currently being challenged in court and could theoretically be amended, Steuben County Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister said this week that it’s “highly unlikely” the maps would change this year.
As a result, Tedisco and Oberacker have launched primary campaigns that are scheduled to lead to a June 28 primary vote. The race features the first-term Oberacker defending his seat in the 51st district against Tedisco, who has a long record in state politics. Tedisco was elected to serve the 49th district in 2016. Prior to winning that seat, he had served in the New York State Assembly since 1983, including having the role of Minority Leader from 2005 to 2009.
Both candidates have similar political positions and platforms, placing an emphasis on issues like supporting volunteer EMS units and expanding broadband access. Neither candidate said he planned to engage in a negative primary campaign.
“I’m not going to compare myself to the senator because I like the senator,” Tedisco said.
Oberacker said he would employ the same strategies he uses in business. Oberacker, who has a background in product research, development and implementation in the food industry, said he would talk to voters about Tedisco the same way he talks to customers about other companies.
“They are really a good company, but give me five minutes and I’m going to tell you why I think I’m better,” Oberacker said. “That’s the same approach I’m going to take here.”
Tedisco has been endorsed by the Republican parties in Schenectady, Montgomery, Fulton and Herkimer counties, while Oberacker has picked up GOP endorsements in Schoharie and Otsego counties. Chenago’s GOP endorsement hasn’t yet been decided.
County GOP leaders said they were not happy to be forced into making a choice.
“To be quite honest, we love both of them,” said Assemblyman Chris Tague, R,I-Schoharie. “It was a very tough decision for everyone. It stinks that we’ve got to choose between two great people. I don’t think any of us are happy about it. I think it goes back to the gerrymandering that was done with the senate lines.”
Fulton County Republican Chairwoman Sue McNeil said her committee has endorsed Tedisco, but that it’s “unfortunate” the primary is happening at all.
“We’re not happy that we got split, but we’re all behind Senator Tedisco,” McNeil said. “Senator Oberacker is a very wonderful man, very well-respected. It’s too bad that the left has pinned us against each other,” McNeil said.
Statewide conservative leaders have called the redistricting maps unfair. New York State Conservative Party Chairman Gerard Kassar said the proposed lines “make clear that New York Democrats are terrified of political competition,” according to a news release. “Some of these district lines are downright comical in their configurations; Democrats should be embarrassed to put them forward.”
Despite legal challenges to the maps, Republicans say the lines that were approved by the New York State Legislature earlier this year are likely here to stay.
“We’re going by what we have right now,” McNeil said. “If it changes then we have to adapt and work it from there.”
Tedisco said he doubts the lines will be changed next year. Any adjustments could result in a special election in 2023.
“Do we really think any judge in the future is going to say forget about that last election, I’m going to make you do it all over again? The constituents will go crazy,” Tedisco said.
State Assemblyman Robert Smullen, R, I-Meco, said the redistricting benefited him by putting Mohawk Valley towns and villages closer to his home in Assembly District 118. But overall, he was upset by redistricting.
“At the state senate level and that race [the 51st district] in particular, the gerrymandering was intentional,” Smullen said. “It was designed to pit two good Republican senators against each other.”
Smullen, who is currently running unopposed for his seat, said despite a map change that creates a primary race pitting one Republican against another, the party’s focus is on defeating democrats.
“We think that New York State is on the wrong track as far as governance goes,” Smullen said.
McNeil said the message she is hearing from state Republicans – at The Republican State Convention and at a Fulton County Republican event on Thursday – is one of unity.
“It was team Republican all the way,” McNeil said. “The candidates came out, the people came out. It was high energy in the room and we’re all locking arms together.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.