Decision 2014: Voter guide

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Congressional race

Gibson, Eldridge take their parting shots

Heading into the final days of a bitterly fought campaign, incumbent U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson (R-Kinderhook) says he has high hopes to win all 11 counties in the 19th Congressional District — including Ulster, where he lost by 13,000 votes in 2012. Meanwhile, Democrat Sean Eldridge is counting on a last-minute barrage of negative ads highlighting Gibson’s positions on abortion, fracking and other hot-button issues and an intensive get-out-the-vote effort to gain traction that has largely eluded him thus far.

The district, which encompasses all or part of 11 counties on both sides of the Hudson River, is an ideological hodgepodge. Some 147,000 of the district’s voters are enrolled Republican, 144,000 are Democratic and 126,000 are not affiliated. Ulster was in the Democratic-leaning 22nd Congressional District until a 2011 redistricting scheme left Gibson the incumbent in a county where he had never campaigned or served. In 2012, the 50-year-old retired Army officer beat former Ulster County Democratic Part chairman Julian Schreibman by a 53 to 47 percent margin, while losing heavily Democratic Ulster County by 13,000 votes and Sullivan County by a much narrower margin.

Over the next two years, Gibson made steady inroads in Ulster County. He opened an office on Broadway and forged alliances with local elected officials, including Kingston’s Democratic Mayor Shayne Gallo. At a recent debate with Eldridge at Miller Middle School, Gibson repeatedly name-checked Kingston projects like the Irish Cultural Center and Gallo’s midtown revitalization effort. In Washington, Gibson sought to burnish his credentials as a negotiator by working with the bipartisan “No Labels” conference. Some of Gibson’s positions, like his call for less reliance on U.S. military power overseas and more stringent civil liberties protections at home , have shown cross party appeal. He’s also pushed legislation designed to appeal to Hudson Valley residents including increased funding for Lyme Disease research, Superstorm Sandy recovery funds and language in the Farm Bill that will help the region’s organic farmers better market their products. Gibson said that he thinks the combination of a focus on local issues and a moderate course that matches up with the district’s political sensibilities will lead him to a wider margin of victory next Tuesday.


“We’re in a very strong place where we’re going to see Republicans, Conservatives and independents come out in strong numbers for us, along with a fair number of Democrats,” said Gibson one week before Election Day. “Our goal is to win all 11 counties, including Ulster. We know it’s a challenge given the enrollment, but we have the bipartisan support.”


Eldridge: Gibson no moderate

Eldridge, meanwhile, came into the campaign a relative newcomer to both elective politics and Ulster County. The 28-year-old venture capitalist was born in Canada and raised in Ohio. He and husband Chris Hughes moved to Shokan early last year. Before that, the couple lived in the Westchester County town of Garrison and New York City. He was a key player in the push for legal same sex-marriage in New York State as political director of Freedom to Marry. Since then he’s focused his efforts of Hudson River Ventures, a company he founded to provide capital investment for small and mid-sized businesses in the region. Prior to entering the Congressional race, Eldridge also served on the board of Planned Parenthood of the Hudson Valley and the environmental group Scenic Hudson.

Eldridge has built his campaign around an effort to undermine Gibson’s claims of moderate pragmatism. On the campaign trail and in a recent blitz of direct mail and TV ads, Eldridge has assailed what he calls a gap between Gibson’s stated positions and his voting record.

“He’s saying one thing in the district and not necessarily having that translate into votes in Washington,” said Eldridge. “He’s a good politician.”

Eldridge notes Gibson’s signing of a pledge to vote against any climate change legislation that would raise taxes, his support for a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks and his support for fracking as evidence of his true political colors. He’s also sought to link Gibson to the ideological excesses of his fellow house Republicans pointing to his recent vote to sue President Obama for executive overreach and his role in last year’s near shutdown of the government (Gibson initially joined House Republicans’ attempts to tie continued funding for government operations to the repeal of Obamacare, but broke ranks when it was clear the effort would fail).

Eldridge has also made campaign finance reform a key platform in his campaign. Married to a co-founder of Facebook, the couple has a personal fortune estimated at around $600 million and so far he’s poured about $3.8 million of it into his campaign (another $2 million has come in individual donations) while declining contributions from corporate political action committees. To counteract what he calls the pernicious influence of corporate money in politics (and Gibson’s campaign), Eldridge has called for a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens’ United Supreme Court decision which found corporate contributions to be a form of protected speech, as well as a law to require PACs to reveal their funding sources and increased public financing for political campaigns.

“You shouldn’t have to be independently wealthy to be politically independent,” said Eldridge.


Hypocrisy, charges Gibson

Gibson has countered Eldridge’s accusations of being under the influence of corporate money, especially in regards to his positions on energy, by pointing to his challengers’ own investments in oil and gas companies and his acceptance of individual contributions from wealthy corporate executives. He also accuses Eldridge of distorting his position on some key issues. Eldridge, Gibson said, has repeatedly accused him of supporting fracking while omitting his belief that the gas drilling procedure should only be allowed in the context of a strong science-backed regulatory framework and with home rule protections to allow communities to ban the procedure. On abortion, Gibson said, Eldridge has called him anti-choice when, in fact, he supports a woman’s right to an abortion up to 20 weeks.

“We can have a debate about what’s more appropriate, 20 or 24 weeks,” said Gibson. “But he’s misleading people about me. Now people are figuring that out and they’re not happy.”

Indeed, Gibson has run well in front in every poll conducted over the course of the race. A Siena College/Time Warner Cable News poll from early September showed Gibson holding a 24-point lead over Eldridge. The poll found that many NY-19 voters hadn’t even heard of Eldridge, while others supported Gibson despite positions on issues like the minimum wage and higher taxes on the rich that hewed more closely to the Democratic Party line. Eldridge partisans, though, seized on a poll conducted in mid-October by the Democrat-aligned Global Strategy Group which showed, following a series of hard-fought debates and an ad blitz, Gibson’s lead had shrunk to 10 points. With 18 percent of the electorate, according to the GSG poll, still undecided, Eldridge’s campaign is hoping that a strong Election Day effort by a corps of enthusiastic volunteers will be enough to put them over the top and score a resounding upset.

“The only poll that counts is the one on Election Day,” said Eldridge.

-Jesse J. Smith



Tkaczyk-Amedore II

State Senate campaign down to the wire

Incumbent Democratic Cecilia Tkaczyk, a former school board member and owner of a sheep farm, is fighting what’s turning out to be our region’s most expensive state race for the large, oddly-configured 46th state Senate district against Republican George Amedore, a former Assemblyman and owner of a second generation Rotterdam-area homebuilding company, who she defeated by 18 votes in a tense recount two years ago.

When the two first started pushing their campaigns in late summer, Tkaczyk came across as the more confident of the two, moving around her district with ease while simultaneously pushing a complex in-office agenda that she proudly touted in interviews. Amedore, whose brief stint as a Senator went down into the record books as New York’s shortest (he was actually seated before the final vote count swung against him in January 2013), answered his own phones in his Albany-area office at the start and reiterated much of his campaign rhetoric from 2012.

Then he started releasing a slew of vicious campaign ads and rained direct mail pieces on district voters, charging his opponent with using her constituent mailers as a means of campaigning and charging her with voting against student loans for anyone but illegal immigrants. At first, she responded in kind, noting the empty viciousness of the Amedore attacks.

In early October a Siena Poll showed the Republican ahead by ten points. In interviews, Tkaczyk again stressed the good job she was doing, while Amedore kept stressing the slim loss he experienced two years ago. Big money started pouring in, first for the Republican and then from a Soros-backed PAC for the Democrat.

Amedore’s television ads and mailers kept attacking, using dark, police-style graphics. Tkaczyk’s materials became sunnier, showing her at work and stressing her accomplishments over the past 21 months in office.

Debates and editorial board meetings showed the two candidates close on many issues, from a Women’s Equality Act to gun control legislation, albeit with sharp elbows wherever differences occurred. Amedore stressed that he could never vote for the full women’s rights package under discussion in Albany because it included an element that sets the Roe v. Wade decision regarding abortions in state law, something he feels works against the safety of women. Tkaczyk said you can’t break up the rights, and noted that the SAFE Act gun control that was passed can be worked with, and is better not repealed.

She has stressed her “common sense” approach to representation and decision-making in Albany, with a focus on education, agricultural, environmental, and women’s issues. He has repeatedly characterized her as someone intent on infringing “on our rights and our constitutional freedoms,” and repeatedly stressed his own business background.



Dueling endorsements

Last week, Amedore failed to show up for a League of Women Voters Meet the Candidates event in Saugerties. The candidate said he had a previous commitment, and has been busy highlighting endorsements he’s received from other Republicans running for Congress or state senate, as well as from five business groups, including the anti-regulatory Unshackle Upstate.

Tkaczyk pushed her endorsements from a number of key environmental groups, various state unions, New York’s two U.S. Senators, and a growing number of newspapers including the Poughkeepsie Journal, as well as the Albany Times Union’s calling out of various falsities in pro-Amedore advertising. All pointed out her level-headed hard work on education and economic development issues as being worthy of support.

“I look at Ulster County’s high unemployment rate and the people moving out there and I can’t help but think that it’s public policy that’s hindered our economy,” Amedore said when starting off his campaign in September, referencing the one county he lost by the largest numbers in 2012. “It’s getting so we can’t afford being in this state anymore, from gas prices to the surcharge tax here, the surcharge tax there on everything from our phone bills to our car insurance.”

“Déjà vu? Same campaign, same viewpoints,” Tkaczyk said then. “I’m confident people are seeing now what a strong presence means in Albany. I’m here to help everyone. We’re all in this together.”

-Paul Smart




Judge races

Savona and Riccardi vie for Family Court judgeship

Democrat Gilda Riccardi of Saugerties and Republican Keri Savona of Kingston are squaring off for the position of Ulster County Family Court judge. The seat is a new one, created by the state to serve Ulster County.

Though they’re not talking about it in the election race, one issue is sure to be where to locate new offices and courtroom space within the current Family Court facilities.

Riccardi, 60, has clerked (effectively an assistant judge) in family court for the better part of a decade. Savona, 38, appears in court as social services chief attorney on a regular basis.

Aside from the Republican line, Savona has the Conservative and Independence lines. Riccardi appears on the Democratic and the Working Families ballot line.

Democrats hold an enrollment advantage of more than 9000 in the county over Republicans, but small parties and voters not enrolled in any party are likely to hold the keys to the race.


Supreme Court judgeship up for grabs

When state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi of the Third Judicial District retired from his second 14-year term half way through on June 26, the Albany Democrat and former public defender set up a race that’s pitting his fellow Albany Law School alumni, Democratic Albany County legislator and private attorney Justin Corcoran, against Greene County-based Republican Lisa M. Fisher, an attorney with the Ulster County Public Defender’s office.

To date, the big news in the race has come during each candidate’s party caucus and judicial convention processes.

Corcoran was challenged by Family Court Judge Margaret “Peggy” Walsh, who ran on a platform touting her experience and the low numbers of women on the state’s top courts. A final convention vote had Corcoran winning 44-29 with backing from the Albany County Democratic Party, versus Walsh’s support from the City of Albany mayor, Kathy Sheehan. He has since also received the Independence line for the Nov. 4 election.

Fisher, who got unanimous backing from her district’s GOP convention, ran into a late season snafu in the past month when another State Supreme Court Justice ruled that votes taken in the Conservative Party’s judicial nominating convention in September violated election law. Then the state Appellate Division overruled that ruling allowing her to keep the C line on next week’s ballot.

Corcoran is a former Albany County Court special prosecutor and private attorney of 19 years standing who also served as past chairman of the Albany County Ethics Commission and a hearing officer who adjudicated cases involving violations of the public health law. He lives in Albany and was elected to his first term in the Albany County Legislature’s 9th District in 2011.

Fisher, 47, is a former assistant public defender and court attorney in Kingston City Court who has been in private practice for 17 years and has been pushing “over 20 years of experience trying cases at all levels of courts of New York, including Supreme, Family, County, federal and town and village courts.” She speaks fluent Spanish and has three teenage children.

Currently, all 11 Supreme Court justices at the trial level in the state’s Third Judicial District, which also includes Ulster, Greene, Columbia and Sullivan counties, are men.

Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans and Conservatives in the huge district, which includes the City of Albany and stretches north to the Canadian border.