44th STATE SENATE DISTRICT — State Sen. Jim Tedisco R-Glenville and Democratic candidate Michelle Ostrelich battled it out Thursday night over issues ranging from abortion rights to public safety at a League of Women Voters forum.
Nearing the end of what has been a tense election cycle, fireworks at times sparked between the two 44th state Senate District candidates vying for high-Democratic, high-independent enrollment territory. The event was hosted over Zoom.
Candidates were provided a minute and a half for each question and two opportunities for an extra, minute-long response.
LOCAL ECONOMIC GROWTH
Ostrelich blamed corporate interests for upping prices during inflation and characterized Tedisco’s disapproval with the last state budget as a misjudgement. The spending plan provided “historic investments”, Ostrelich said, in social programs and infrastructure.
“I often have heard Jim Tedisco refer to the Empire State as the empty state,” Ostrelich said in what appeared to be a reference to Saratoga County’s outlying growth. “But this district is growing. People here are moving here, actually, because of the great quality of life and that’s what will protect us against the rising tide of costs.”
Tedisco blamed 365,000 people exiting the state last year between 2020 and 2021 on the demands of the $220.5 billion spending on demands of the most recent fiscal plan — the largest budget in New York history. On the campaign trail, voters have told the state senator that property taxes are too high.
“Again, the point is here, we have opportunities to change things to turn it around,” Tedisco said. “And the way to do that is to continue the property tax cap, which I authored and expanded.”
SHOULD FAITH-ASSOCIATED HOSPITALS BE ALLOWED TO DENY REPRODUCTIVE CARE?
Addressing abortion, Tedisco believes that the U S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow states autonomy over abortion for the first time in 50 years was legally sound. He also blamed Gov. Kathy Hochul for inviting non-residents to get an abortion in New York.
“Nothing that the federal government is going to change which is taking place right now,” Tedisco said. “I’m not going to tell women what kind of decisions to make. I’m not going to make decisions about hospitals.”
Ostrelich fired back: Tedisco isn’t addressing potential treatment denial feared as feared within the merger of Ellis Medicine and a Catholic healthcare system. She would support legislation mandating hospitals to allow abortion care.
Ostrelich supports urgent action against climate change and the $4.2 billion Environmental Bonds Act proposal on the ballot this election cycle.
Tedisco insisted that he supports “extremely important” environmental infrastructure investments like the existing Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program, but doesn’t considers the ballot proposal an expensive “wish list”.
The state senator claimed “our previous governor, which I believe Michelle endorsed and he endorsed her” Andrew Cuomo didn’t deliver on expanding broadband service in rural areas.
Ostrelich said it’s challenging for small businesses owners and students in rural areas to excel without high-speed internet. She believes the state Senate needs to revisit such investments with federal dollars.
“So in—high speed internet should be treated like our infrastructure,” Ostrelich said. “But it’s essential infrastructure.”
Ostrelich blames ideologically-driven media sources for driving polarization. She pointed to her work with three legislators in Schenectady County’s open tent Conservative Party, which caucus with the Democrats, as an example of bipartisanship.
“There are so many ways to reach an agreement about issues that matter when it comes to making sure our families have what they need to take care of the ones that they love, right?” Ostrelich said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Tedisco boasted about his bail reform repeal bill co-sponsored by Assembly members Ron Kim D-Flushing and Angelo Santabarbara D-Rotterdam. The senior assemblyman also worked with state Sen. Michelle Hinchey D-Saugerties earlier this year on a bill to revamp aging water infrastructure networks.
AFFORDABLE CHILDCARE & CARE FOR SENIORS
Tedisco said that child care is “extremely important for the reason that we have to move our economy along.” He added that the pandemic provided opportunities for parents to work remotely and then pivoted the discussion mostly towards struggling businesses and inflation.
“The one bad thing is now those same businesses are fighting for their lives to survive to stay in existence,” Tedisco said. “So this is a double-edged sword.”
Ostrelich lauded the last state budget for providing workforce development assistance, including childcare, job training and educational support, but believes the cost of childcare is still too high. She supports universal pre-K for Shenendehowa Central School District.
“Look, finding daycare right now, especially post-pandemic, or wrap-around care for school-aged children, I’ve heard it compared to the Hunger Games,” Ostrelich said. “It is incredibly hard to find spots out there.”
Ostrelich wants more affordable housing projects in Saratoga Springs and Schenectady, all of which she hopes would be linked to public transit routes. If elected, the Niskayuna politician would bring on a staff member devoted to seeking funding for housing opportunities.
Tedisco pivoted the discussion to seniors struggling with the cost of living in New York. The state senator believes that seniors should receive more tax exemptions and boasted legislation to help them receive greater dental coverage.
The New York Health Act bill provides state-supported healthcare for all residents. The price tag — $139 billion needed in new tax revenue — has been a dealbreaker, especially for Republicans. Tedisco is one of them.
The issue should be redirected to support residents without health insurance instead of increasing spending or potentially losing healthcare jobs in the private sector, Tedisco said. He referenced progressive states including California and Vermont backtracking on the high-dollar plan.
“It’s impossible,” Tedisco said.
Ostrelich, the founding member of a coalition addressing the merger between St. Peter’s Health Partners and Ellis Medicine, supports NYHA.
“Our healthcare system is broken,” Ostrelich said. “What we need is universal healthcare.”
She believes that NYHA would lead to a thriving economy after taking healthcare plan woes off the table for employers.
Ostrelich called herself “the only pro-choice candidate on the ballot in this race” in reference to a series of reproductive care bills and an constitional proposal Tedisco voted against in the state Senate, which she supports.
The Reproductive Healthcare Act, a proposal to codify abortion in the state Constitution is expected to go up for referendum in 2024. Tedisco labeled it “abortion on demand”, claiming the amendment would allow abortion too close to delivery and risk potential harm by permitting unlicensed physicians to handle abortion.
Under RHA, physician assistants, nurse practitioners are allowed to perform abortions. Technology has allowed more professionals to perform abortions, supporters say.
Ostrelich added that the law codifies the right to carry out an abortion close to pregnancy when the mother’s life and health are at risk. “Her life is at risk to carrying that pregnancy full term,” she said. “That is necessary medical care. The last person that should be involved in that discussion is Senator Jim Tedisco.”
The amendment allows abortion access after 24 weeks for inviable fetuses.
Using his time for a rebuttal, Tedisco claimed the county legislator was intentionally vague: “She can’t give me a date or a date when the child is viable and the mother is healthy.”
“It’s 24 weeks,” Ostrelich interjected, referencing the amendment.
“24 — no, it’s not, You’re making that up. And she’s interrupting me. I never interrupted her.”
Tedisco also alleged the amendment lifts legal recourse for attacks resulting in unwanted abortions, a claim supporters of RHA have denied.
Crime is up 28% as of late October in Schenectady based on a five-year high.
Tedisco, a fierce opponent of the “resolving door”, mentioned Democrats including “progressive” Albany County District Attorney David Soares and New York City Mayor Eric Adams have slammed bail reform before. He called both amendments made to the policy, which originally axed bail for most nonviolent felonies, a failure.
“People aren’t quarantining because of the COVID virus anymore to to a great extent,” Tedisco said. “They’re quarantined because of the criminal element and the dangerous to come out into the streets, to walk at night, to go get lunch to go to a restaurant. They’re concerned for my life and rightfully so.”
Ostrelich briefly pivoted the discussion to Tedisco’s vote against legislation requiring guns to be more trackable and called the state senator’s voting record “less safe” (Tedisco considers the ghost gun law unconstitutional). She then proceeded to deliver what appeared to be a personal attack.
“What Jim Tedisco wants is just to keep poor people in jail without having any trial so they have not yet been proven guilty,” she said. “That’s un-American.”
She must be disgusted with other Democrats who have also expressed dissent with bail reform, Tedisco responded.
“Even Aaron judge when he strikes out three times has to correct his batting procedure,” he said in reference to Major League Baseball and the law’s past amendments. “They’re not correcting it at all.”
END OF LIFE CARE
New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act would enable physician-assisted suicide for cognizant, terminally ill adults. The practice is currently legal in 10 states.
Ostrelich believes physician-assisted care can be a more dignified end for some. Tedisco said that he can understand the issue from both angles, but would rather increase treatment options over letting others choose death earlier in sickness.
“The hard solution is to keep your loved one alive when they want to be kept alive or talk to them seriously about individuals who could reduce that pain seriously so they’re not in pain,” he said. “But it’s a very complex, it’s a very sincere and important issue and I understand both sides of it right now.”
Election Day is Tuesday.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected]