Voters in the state’s 102nd Assembly District will choose between a political newcomer and an incumbent Nov. 6.
Democrat Jimmy Miller is challenging Republican Pete Lopez for his seat representing about 132,450 people.
The district encompasses all of Schoharie and Delaware counties and portions of Otsego, Delaware, Albany, Columbia and Ulster counties.
Meet the candidates
PARTY: Republican, Conservative, Independence
EDUCATION: Master’s in Public Administration, University at Albany
MORE INFO: www.lopez4ny.com
EDUCATION: Master’s in Public Administration, Marist College
MORE INFO: www.jimmymillerforassembly.com
Miller, 46, was raised in Round Top, Greene County, and retired earlier this year as spokesman for the Albany Police Department after a 20-year career with the department.
Lopez, 51, has been involved in government since he was first elected as a trustee in his hometown, the village of Schoharie, in 1984.
He served as a Schoharie Town Board member from 1988 to 1990, as Schoharie town supervisor from 1990 to 1993, then as Schoharie County Clerk before being elected to the Assembly in 2006.
Both candidates cite economic development as a priority.
Miller said the state government needs to be creative in efforts to help small businesses, and he would support a minimum wage increase as long as it doesn’t harm the businesses themselves.
To avoid that, he said the state should explore incentives such as property tax relief for businesses along with the minimum wage hike.
“We have to collectively be able to attract businesses into the area,” Miller said.
He said struggling Catskill towns need an infusion of entrepreneurs and more draws for tourists.
Miller said additional zip lines, such as one built at Hunter Mountain, and other recreational opportunities should be developed to strengthen the tourism industry during the summer months.
He said establishing a new casino in the district would help stem New York’s loss of revenue into neighboring states that offer casino gambling.
“We’re virtually surrounded by states that have gambling casinos and billions of dollars in gambling revenues going out of the state,” he said.
Local communities where casinos are proposed would need to have a say in the matter, while ensuring there’s infrastructure able to support it and making sure they would be profitable and not go out of business, Miller said.
He said a world-class golf course could be established and draw more people to the region.
He said there are areas in the district that are ripe for development, such as along the Route 9W corridor, where a new water park could be developed.
These initiatives would require drawing the right people capable of financing them, he said.
“You need to attract the right people that have money and want to invest in upstate,” Miller said.
Miller said he doesn’t believe his opponent has delivered meaningful improvements to residents in the district since he was elected. He said he hears often from people that Pete Lopez is a “nice guy,” but he thinks that doesn’t mean residents are seeing progress with the help of government.
“There’s not a lot of things accomplished since 2006, so we need to go in a different direction, and it’s my belief I can accomplish that through the Assembly,” Miller said. He said he believes as a Democrat he could get more done since he’d be in the majority party of the Assembly.
Lopez said he’s heard Miller call him a “nice guy” at several debates during the campaign — but he said effective representation takes more than being nice.
“I’m a nice guy who’s effective, I’m a nice guy whose passionate, I’m a nice guy who works circles around someone like [Jimmy Miller],” Lopez said.
He questions Miller’s grasp on what it takes to get things done in Albany, and he said he’s shown on several occasions his ability to bring people of different parties together to get things done.
Lopez cites success in making supplemental assistance available to dairy farmers back in 2007. A bill passed the Senate but stalled in the Assembly and Lopez said he set up a meeting with the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, garnering their support and ultimately passing the legislation.
He said he worked alongside Democratic Assemblyman Ron Canestrari to sponsor a bill that saved SUNY Cobleskill’s histotechnology program, as well.
“The Democrats, Republicans, upstate, downstate, they know me, they trust me, they respect me, they partner with me,” Lopez said.
Lopez said businesses need more assistance than the state proclaiming New York is “open for business.” He said the next step should be addressing state-based policies and regulations and changing the outlook state agencies have toward their jobs.
Rules and regulations sometimes get in the way of a business trying to create jobs, and Lopez said state agencies need to adopt a two-pronged approach to their work.
The first focus is addressing their specific mission. The second, he said, should be doing their jobs with the survival and success of local businesses they regulate in mind.
During the past four years, Lopez said he’s been able to mitigate the potential loss of jobs by working with state agencies and others to accomplish both goals.
He cited his work in Saugerties, Ulster County, aimed at helping a furniture business stay in operation there. The company’s drivers kept getting tickets for having oversized loads on roadways and Lopez said he worked with state agencies to come up with a solution to change traffic patterns and keep the business there.
He cited similar work, such as helping to get the Saugerties-based Dutch Ale House approved for a microbrewery that required work with the state Agriculture and Markets Department.
And he said another situation requiring assistance happened in Durham, where a local zoning officer rejected the Zoom Flume’s request to develop a wave pool.
“We worked with the Department of State and the code officer, and we found a way to meet the spirit of the code for safety. They put their wave pool in, they’ve expanded their business,” Lopez said.
He said he got the state Department of Labor to allow youths as young as 16 to operate lawn mowers at a golf course, making the case that 16-year-olds can operate motor vehicles on the roads.
“The issues, you’ve got to get into them. You can’t just sit on the sidelines. It’s also local decision-making, so you’ve got to be able to put it all together and you’ve got to be able to package stuff,” Lopez said.
Lopez operates three district offices, only one of which is paid for by the state Assembly. He said he typically drives 1,000 miles each week to stay in touch with the district.
In terms of being a Republican in the Democratic-controlled Assembly, Lopez said that very fact liberates him so he can do the work he believes is necessary without being ruled by party leaders.