Republican George Amedore will face his first re-election challenge to the 46th Senate District seat from a newcomer to state politics, Sara Niccoli, as state Democrats seek to swing the balance of power in the chamber back to their party, which enjoys a significant enrollment edge among voters statewide.
The seat is important for party control of the Senate, and comes with, for Democrats anyway, a recent bit of unpleasant history.
In 2012 Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk faced then-Assemblyman Amedore in a close race that, after legal challenges on both sides, resulted in Tkaczyk eking out an 18-vote win.
That victory would have helped the party take control of the Senate that year, but a small group of breakaway Democrats, now known as the Independent Democratic Conference, aligned themselves with the GOP. Amedore then came back in 2014 and unseated Tkaczyk.
The house is currently made up of 31 Republicans, 25 mainline Democrats, five members of the Independent Democratic Conference and one Brooklyn Democrat, Simcha Felder, who’s aligned himself with the GOP. This complicated math adds up to a precarious level of control for Senate Republicans, one that Democrats are seeking this cycle to topple.
The 46th Senate District is seen as one key to this goal, with Democrats counting on Niccoli, a farmer and town supervisor of Palatine in Montgomery County, to carry the day on Tuesday.
The district includes all or portions of five counties — from Montgomery County in the west to parts of eastern Schenectady and Albany counties, down through Greene and Ulster counties, including Kingston. Montgomery and Greene counties are entirely within the district. Democrats have about 10,000 more registered voters than Republicans in the district, which is also home to 50,000 independent voters.
Both candidates told The Daily Gazette they’ve been working to meet as many voters as possible during the run-up to the election.
“We’re just doing everything we can to meet voters face to face and have conversations with them about what’s going on with them and their communities,” said Niccoli, who also works as director of the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, but is on leave from the organization to run for the senate.
She said she’s been focusing most of her efforts on her home county — Montgomery — and has strong get-out-the-vote operations in Ulster and Albany counties. The message she’s stressing to voters, she said, is the need to repair the upstate economy.
“We need good jobs here in upstate New York and we’ve really seen a loss of the middle class over the last 30 years,” said Niccoli. “And many parts of the district are really struggling because of that.”
HOME: Palatine Bridge
OCCUPATION: Town supervisor, farmer, director of progressive non-profit
FAMILY: Husband, Sean, one daughter
PARTY: Democrat ENDORSEMENTS: New York League of Conservation Voters, The Daily Gazette
Niccoli launched her campaign on a platform of getting special interest money out of state politics, and said if elected she would work toward closing the LLC loophole that allows individuals to skirt contribution limits to their favored candidate by creating multiple limited liability companies to send donations from.
She has also, along with Amedore, made the property tax burden in the state a focus of her campaign.
“We have property taxes that are squeezing people out of their communities,” said Niccoli, who favors shifting the Medicaid mandate entirely to the state and said she would push to ensure school districts in the 46th Senate District get the $60 million in foundation aid she says they’re owed.
“Our local school taxpayers are making up for some of that and then the kids really are making up for the rest — they’re going without,” she said.
Niccoli says that while the 46th Senate District seat is important to state Democrats, she believes her party will ultimately gain a majority in the house regardless of whether she wins the election.
“Looking at the likely outcomes of several different seats across the state, it looks like the [46th Senate] seat will play a role in winning the Democratic majority, but whether we win the seat or not we very likely will have a majority,” she said. “To me, the major concern is how important the seat is to serving the people of the 46th Senate district.”
Niccoli characterized herself as a “reluctant Clinton supporter” and said she has concerns about the Democratic presidential nominee’s ties to special interests, but will be voting for Hillary Clinton.
Asked if she sees support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the district as an issue, she said most voters she’s talked with just want someone who will work for them in Albany, and sees the potential for crossover votes benefitting her.
“Montgomery County has been left out and ignored by Albany for a very long time, so while I do see Trump support there it doesn’t necessarily mean that folks will not be voting for me,” she said.
Amedore, like Niccoli, has been knocking on doors in the district during the last days of the campaign. “We’ve got all cylinders running,” he said.
He’s been stressing his plan for revitalizing the upstate economy, easing the tax burden, and touting his first-term accomplishments.
“Two years ago they entrusted me to be their senator, and I made a lot of promises back in the 2014 campaign,” said Amedore. “We’ve been stressing all the accomplishments to those promises.”
Those achievements, he said, include helping to end the gap elimination adjustment, a process whereby the state budget shortfall would be divided among all school districts throughout the state and realized as a reduction in state aid to districts.
OCCUPATION: Politician, developer
FAMILY: Wife, Joelle, three children
PARTY: Republican ENDORSEMENTS: NRA, PEF, CSEA
Amedore said he was also successful in securing funds for several infrastructure projects throughout the district, including money to help fix Amsterdam’s ailing sewer system.
But, like Niccoli, the topic of conversation he hears most about from voters concerns property taxes and the economy.
“We all love New York, we just can’t afford New York,” he said.
Amedore, who is an executive at his family’s development company, Amedore Homes, said he’d seek to lower the property tax burden “by any mechanism” he can, including eliminating unfunded mandates. He’s also in favor of shifting the cost for the Medicaid mandate wholly to the state (right now the state only reimburses counties for the cost of Medicaid increases).
A bill he co-sponsored that passed both the Assembly and Senate is awaiting the governor’s signature, he said, and would cause the state to reimburse counties or the cost of providing indigent legal services.
“Upstate New York needs relief on the property tax burden and this will help in a big way to bring some relief to local homeowners on just this one mandate alone,” said Amedore.
Amedore, who will be voting for Trump in the presidential election, said he sees the 46th Senate district as important to preserving the balance of power in Albany for his party.
“[It’s] one of the linchpins to hold the Senate majority, to keep the Senate in Republican hands and to keep a balance in Albany. Nobody wants to go back to one-party rule,” said Amedore, referring to the Democrats’ long-term hold on the Assembly.
“This is an important election year, but local races will be decided in local issues, and I have delivered for the residents of the 46th Senate District,” he added.