The 118th Assembly District race pits a novice Democratic challenger saying he will bring fresh ideas to the position against a veteran Republican assemblyman telling residents their years of investment in him are about to pay off significantly.
Seeking the two-year term are Democrat Joseph Chilelli from the town of Herkimer and Republican Marc Butler of Newport. Butler has represented the 117th Assembly District, which includes Herkimer County, Fulton County and the northeastern portion of Otsego County, since 2002. He was first elected to the Assembly in 1995, initially representing the 113th District.
The 118th District, which takes effect Jan. 1, is twice as large and includes all of Hamilton and Fulton counties, most of Herkimer County and portions of Oneida and St. Lawrence counties. It is home to about 132,000 people and has a 2-1 Republican enrollment edge over Democrats.
Meet the candidates
BALLOT LINE: Democrat
EDUCATION: High school graduate and graduate of a trade school in engineering
EXPERIENCE: Served on Herkimer County Legislature for one two-year term; owns import business and packaging/shipping center; is a real estate agent
PERSONAL: Married with two children
BALLOT LINES: Republican, Conservative, Independence
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Arts in English from SUNY Potsdam
EXPERIENCE: Former corporate communications specialist with Utica National Insurance, Newport village trustee and member of Herkimer County Legislature; assemblyman since 1995
PERSONAL: Married with two children
Chilelli is running a bare-bones campaign without outside support, and has spent about $5,000 to promote himself. Butler has spent three times that amount, according to financial disclosure forms.
Chilelli, whose political career consists of a two-year term on the Herkimer County Legislature from 2007 to 2009, said he is not running for the local Democratic committee or the Democratic Party.
“I am running for the people in the district and all party affiliations. I have 10 people on my campaign team, eight of them are Republicans. I am a common-sense person who will fight for the right reasons,” he said.
He said he would be a stronger voice for the district.
“As a Democrat, I would be in the majority and I could bring more to the region. I have new ideas, I have the drive to get things done. I believe someone has to run to offer people a fresh choice and start.”
Butler said his years in the Assembly have been fruitful for the district in the help he has provided through constituent services, and he is ready to step that up.
“I am running because I have been in for 17 years and I have worked my way up through the ranks. I have some influential positions on committees, and I believe I will have some opportunities that will come up to have some additional leadership positions in the coming Assembly session, and that translates into clout,” he said.
Butler said he is in the running for the position of assistant minority leader pro tempore, the third highest rank on the Republican Party’s side of the Assembly. The position is responsible for helping run the floor, reviewing bills, counting noses, keeping order and working with the minority leader. The state Legislature operates on a seniority system, which rewards a person’s years in office with rank and privileges.
“The people have trusted me for 17 years. With more seniority comes more influence,” Butler said. “I am at a point where people who have invested in me can get a return on their investment.”
On the issues, both candidates identified job creation as the No. 1 priority in the district.
“We need jobs, we need to create jobs and we have lost a lot of jobs,” Chilelli said. “People are concerned about their future, they are concerned about how we will create jobs and where they will come from.”
His plan to create jobs is to work with communities to develop a comprehensive marketing plan that highlights each area’s assets.
“Then we should go overseas. There are companies overseas that would love to break into the U.S. market, but they do not know we exist. We should put together a plan and go overseas with the plan,” he said.
Tied to the plan should be incentives, such as low-cost power, to entice businesses to the region, he said, adding the district has some of the least-expensive real estate around.
“We can create the economic climate for businesses to come in. There is no magic fix for the problems we have, but we have to start,” he said.
Butler said he has been traveling the new district, getting to know people and their elected leaders, and he is hearing tales of a tough economy.
“They are telling me [good] jobs are difficult to find and the economy is in a slump. As I go door to door and see the number of homes for sale, that emphasizes what they are telling me,” he said. “There are some positives that are occurring, but I would say people right now are discouraged.”
Primarily, he is hearing there are jobs available, but they are not as good as the jobs that have been lost.
“We have highly skilled, highly trained people taking jobs below their skill levels and salary requirements. They are not getting the kinds of jobs they ought to have and are deserving,” he said.
His solution: Push for cuts in state spending, reduce burdensome state regulations that affect job-creating businesses and work more closely with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.
“I think the best way to accomplish goals is to work together, and what the governor has done has created an atmosphere where there is a more bipartisan relationship,” Butler said. “Under his leadership, we have had two on-time budgets, there is a better relationship between both houses and both majorities. It was absolutely toxic several years ago, and that has changed.”
Butler said Cuomo’s bipartisan approach to running the state is a benefit. “We are trying to pull back on some of the regulations New York state puts on businesses. That is a long-term process. Gov. Cuomo has recognized the need to do that. He has co-opted some of the Republican initiatives and made them his own,” he said.
Butler would also like to see the state allow local governments more control over which options they can provide under Medicaid, a federal health insurance program for the poor and disadvantaged.
“New York has the most lavish Medicaid program in the nation with the most options. Our counties tell us to let them have a role in what options they will provide,” he said.
Chilelli and Butler differ on how effective a Republican can be in the Democratic-controlled Assembly. Chilelli said the region is not getting the best representation from Albany and that as a Democrat he would be more effective. Butler said the least publicized but most effective service he has provided while in office is constituent assistance.
“My focus has always been back on the district. People come into our office if they have problems with an agency, and we try and intervene. We help veterans obtain benefits and help business owners facing fines and penalties. We have fully staffed offices in the district. That is what we do day in and day out, and that provides some satisfaction when we help people navigate the bureaucracy,” he said.
As for the new district, Butler said it provides new challenges.
“There is a whole new array of municipal leaders, people who I need to know and meet and develop relationships with. That puts a lot of miles on your car and a lot of stress in your life, but that is what you signed up for,” he said. “This [redistricting] has forced me to get out and get on the road and talk to people and get their views. It has been kind of an interesting thing to do.”