Veteran educator Brian Howard will join the Democratic ticket to challenge first-term Republican Kathleen Marchione for her 43rd state Senate District seat.
Howard, who most recently served as the interim superintendent of the Troy City School District, got the nod from the Saratoga County Democrats last week and the Rensselaer County Democratic Committee on Monday. He was expected to receive an endorsement from the Columbia County Democrats on Tuesday evening.
Democrats believe the retired school administrator has the right blend of name recognition and experience to unseat Marchione, the former Saratoga County clerk, who cruised to victory against former Claverack Supervisor Robin Andrews in 2012. With more than 40 years in the education field including at four school districts located within the 43rd District, Howard is a formidable challenger who can raise money on par with his opponent, said Tom Wade, the chairman of the Rensselaer County Democrats.
“He’s smart, he’s well-educated, he works with other people and he’s open to ideas and suggestions,” Wade said of Howard.
Howard, 64, was a longtime resident of Brunswick until moving to Troy this spring. He was superintendent at the Queensbury school district before retiring in 2008.
“He is going to bring a common-sense approach to a Senate seat that is currently occupied by someone with extremist views,” Wade said.
Contacted Monday, Howard said he’s running to bring common sense to the Legislature. He said his goal is to show that people with opposing views can still work toward a common goal.
“I’m running because I’d like to see a little common sense restored to government,” he said, “to show that people can actually work together in order to accomplish things.”
Todd Kerner, chairman of the Saratoga County Democrats, sees Howard as a candidate who will bring a moderate voice to the Senate in contrast to what he called the far-right agenda pushed by Marchione. He said the incumbent has ostracized large swaths of her district and helped further polarize the Senate with her extremist views.
“I see her as someone who shouldn’t be in government — someone who intentionally doesn’t represent all the citizens in the district and calls herself an extreme conservative,” he said. “Someone who is in government for a specific agenda is not what we need right now . . . and she’d rather grandstand than to work to accomplish a goal.”
Marchione’s campaign rejected this characterization. Spokesman Josh Fitzpatrick said the senator has a long record of serving the district’s needs — from challenging the NY SAFE Act to identifying solutions to combat the rise in heroin abuse — in less than two years in office.
“Senator Kathy Marchione is running for re-election — and she is going to win,” he said. “Senator Marchione has stood strong and spoken up for what’s right.”
Republicans hold a roughly 10,000-voter advantage over the Democrats in the district, which also has more than 15,000 voters enrolled in the Independence Party. Marchione has already amassed a war chest of more than $154,000 for her re-election bid, according to the campaign finance disclosure she filed in January.
Marchione’s rise to the Senate started after her predecessor, two-term Republican state Sen. Roy McDonald, cast a vote in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in 2012. His controversial vote helped pass the measure, which had popular support from many New Yorkers but not among the socially conservative faction of his party.
Marchione emerged victorious during a hard-fought primary battle for the Republican nomination. McDonald remained on the ballot with the Independence Party line, but stopped actively campaigning after losing the Republican endorsement, despite receiving support from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Marchione, the former head of the Halfmoon Republicans, has also been on the periphery of controversy surrounding politics in that town, and land deals between the town and several powerful developers. Though she isn’t accused of any wrong-doing, the relationship between a number of Halfmoon politicians and some of the town’s major developers has recently drawn scrutiny from investigators.
Marchione has said she was interviewed briefly by FBI agents last year regarding then-Town Supervisor Melinda Wormuth, who resigned in late 2013 amid a probe of campaign contributions to her.
In late March, Marchione held a news conference in front of a 3.3-acre lot on Shelbourne Drive that she purchased from Robert Marini Builders when the developer was getting under way with the construction of a 37-lot upscale development in 2007. She defended the purchase — for $30,000 — as a fair price for unusable land that would serve as a buffer between her home and the new development.
Kerner said Marchione’s strong influence in Halfmoon politics means she can’t remove herself from the controversy.