“Regular people, mothers and [sheep] farmers like me, need to step up.” That’s why Sara Niccoli, Democratic supervisor of the Town of Palatine in Montgomery County, says she’s running for state Senate. Ulster is the largest county in the five-county 46th Senate District, currently represented by first-term Republican George Amedore of Rotterdam.
Niccoli was in Kingston on Saturday, March 19 on a swing around the district to announce her candidacy for the Democratic nomination. She has been endorsed by Montgomery County Democrats and by Democrats in the cities of Schenectady and Amsterdam. County nominating conventions for both parties are expected in late May and early June. Saugerties county Legislator Chris Allen, a second-term Democrat who had indicated interest in running last year, was unavailable for comment on Niccoli’s candidacy.
The election in the narrowly Democratic district could determine which party controls the closely divided state Senate in January. Thanks to an alliance with a five-member Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), minority Republicans currently rule. Niccoli says “there is no way in the world” she’ll play that game if elected. “I absolutely plan to conference with Senate Democrats,” she said in an interview last week. “I would hope the [New York City-based] IDC comes back to Senate Democrats in January and we can get some real work done.”
The district includes parts of Ulster County (the City of Kingston and the towns of Saugerties, Woodstock, Ulster and Esopus) and all Greene County. It was created by 2012 reapportionment, “gerrymandered to elect (then-Assemblyman) Amedore,” in Niccoli’s opinion.
A funny thing happened on the way to that election. Duanesburg school board member and sheep farmer Cecilia Tkaczyk, riding a Democratic presidential tide, an active ground game and some late donations from the Soros family, defeated Amedore by 18 votes. Amedore roared back in 2014 to oust Tkaczyk by over 11,500 votes.
The former Democratic senator, whom Niccoli calls “incredibly supportive,” attended Niccoli’s announcement in front of Kingston High School on Saturday. About twenty other local Democrats also turned out, including Kingston Mayor Steve Noble, Woodstock county Legislator Jon Heppner, Kingston school board member Jim Shaunessey and New Paltz Councilman Dan Torres, representing County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach.
Niccoli, 38, got involved in Palatine politics (population 3,400) on a small-town issue, sharp division over the proposed construction of a new town hall pegged at $500,000. The town budget in what Niccoli described as a rural “conservative Republican” farming community of small businesses is about a million dollars a year. Niccoli and her allies formed a Democratic-Republican anti-town hall coalition that ousted four Republican board members and elected her supervisor last year. The job pays $6,500, she said. State senators draw a base salary of $79,500.
Though she supports Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for a phased-in increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, she is concerned about its impact on non-profits and small businesses. “I’ve worked with non-profits my whole career with a background in affordable housing, criminal justice, workforce development and community development,” she said. “I am very sensitive to the hardships. We need to assure there’s money in the budget to accommodate the increase in the minimum wage.”
Niccoli says government is already subsidizing the minimum wage. “We have people who may be working full-time but still have to rely on public assistance,” she said. “Taxpayers are making up for what corporations should be paying their workers.”
Niccoli, a graduate of SUNY Albany with a master’s degree in public administration from New York University, works as an anti-poverty advocate in Albany with the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York City. She’s on the board of the New York Council of Churches, a faith-based network.
Niccoli and her husband Sean are the parents of a 13-year-old daughter who attends local schools. They raise sheep — “the same breed as Cecilia’s,” she said — and vegetables.
Amedore, 46, a homebuilder in the Capital District and a former three-term assemblyman, has yet to officially announce for re-election.