Voters in the 44th Senate District have a choice between a progressive agenda and an extremely progressive agenda.
Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar, is vying for his ninth term in the state Senate and Green Party challenger Peter LaVenia is hoping to change things up. The two are running in the newly constituted 44th Senate District, which includes the northeast part of Albany County and the cities of Troy and Rensselaer.
The 70-year-old Breslin is running for the same reasons as he did 16 years ago, which is essentially to create better lives for his constituents. In large part this mission revolves around creating jobs and raising the minimum wage. “The things I’m arguing for are still the same thing,” he said.
He and 31-year-old LaVenia agree that the minimum wage should go up, but Breslin is calling for a modest increase to $8.50 an hour and having future raises tied to the cost of living. This raise, he said, would help people survive and spur the economy.
It doesn’t go far enough for LaVenia, who wants to see a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
LaVenia, who recently got his doctorate in political science from the University at Albany, is also calling for a radical Green New Deal. This investment, which is endorsed by essentially all Green Party candidates at any level, would essentially be a permanent public works program designed to end unemployment and lead to new utilizations of environmentally friendly technology.
He argues that this radical plan is the sort of thing that isn’t being brought up in the two-party-dominated political system. “I’m running for state Senate because I think we need new voices and new ideas,” LaVenia said.
For his part, Breslin would like to spur job creation in his district by replication of the model of the Albany NanoCollege. He said there are great higher-level learning centers in this district, which need to be tied together with the high-tech industries in the area.
The pair also have diverging views on a variety of topics that could be addressed in a special legislative session this year or will be priorities of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013, including the further decriminalization of marijuana and campaign finance reform.
On the former, which relates mostly to the stop-and-frisk policies of New York City, Breslin said the changes are appropriate. LaVenia says the state should completely end its war on marijuana by legalizing it and also wants the stop-and-frisk practice to completely end.
LaVenia opposes the possibility of legalized hydrofracking in the state and faults Breslin for not having a concrete position on the issue. Breslin is currently opposed to fracking, but is open to the idea under the right circumstances. “I want to be convinced it won’t impact the water supply in my district … or anywhere else in the state,” he said.
They both say that they could be an important voice in the state Senate, even if they’re in the minority. LaVenia predicts that in a narrowly divided Senate he would be a key swing vote and could leverage his post on certain issues. Breslin noted that he has already been successful as a minority member, highlighting the fact that the Republican-controlled state Senate embraced a number of liberal positions in the last two years under Cuomo.