Incumbent Republican assemblyman Chris Tague, 48, won the special election for Pete Lopez’ vacated District 102 seat by a narrow margin of 288 votes back in April. He will hold the interim position until December regardless of the outcome of the November 6 midterm election.
According to the state elections board website, Tague had 8547 votes to Democratic opponent Aidan O’Connor’s 8259. Tague was Schoharie town supervisor and GOP county chairman. O’Connor, 29, minority leader of the Greene County Legislature and professional paramedic, is facing Tague again.
The margin of victory was narrow. The results of the re-run between the two will probably depend on the character of the voter turnout next Tuesday.
O’Connor says he feels more confident this time around.
“The biggest opportunity this year is the amount of time we’ve had to talk to more voters. The special election was more of a sprint, whereas the race leading up to November is a marathon,” said O’Connor. “We’ve talked to more people and have had a huge uptick in volunteers. We’re seeing a ton of energy out there. People want something new. They like the fact that I’m a younger candidate, that I’d be the first paramedic in the legislature.”
The Town of Saugerties is the only part of Ulster County within the contested Assembly district. In unofficial results on the special election night, O’Connor received 1281 votes in Saugerties to Tague’s 719.
Tague says he “absolutely loves the job” so far. “I’ve done everything I said I was going to do. I’m retired, so I’m doing this 100 percent of the time. I love working with people. Sometimes Albany isn’t the best place to be, but doing constituent work in the district, I have a passion for it.”
Tague says the job has to be done full-time for the legislator to be effective. “I think half the problem in Albany is people who are there for careers,” he said. “I’ve already had a career. I’m doing this to give back to my community.”
Who they are, what they’ve done
Among the accomplishments of whichTague is proud of is his perfect score on the New York State Business Council’s yearly report earlier this month. He was the only assemblyperson to do so. The business group ranks members of the State Senate and Assembly based on their pro-business and job-creation standards.
Tague also lauded his work for New York dairy farmers in his short stint on the Assembly. “I’m proud of the fact that I personally sat down with the Secretary of Agriculture. I was a dairy farmer, so we had a very nice discussion about these almond and rice companies advertising their products as milk,” said Tague. “I think they do a disservice to the public because it’s not milk. I think the advertisement that goes around is a disservice to dairy farmers. We also talked about getting whole milk back into the school lunch program.” He plans on putting legislation together that would provide incentives to schools, prisons and institutions for using whole milk.
O’Connor is no slouch when it comes to his own accomplishments, bringing his experience as an emergency medical professional to bear. His campaign schedule has been bolstered with a slew of community outreach projects.
“For the last two and a half years, I’ve been focusing on projects on things that improve human life while ignoring the politics,” said O’Connor. “We are now funding our emergency medical services the most they have been in the history of Greene County. We’ve also purchased 38 new defibrillators and placed them all throughout our communities including police cars, local diners and post offices. In rural upstate New York, it can take a significant amount of minutes for someone to get to you. During our campaign we’ve chosen to take a few nights off to teach community members CPR and train them how to use those public access defibrillators. We’re hoping to teach 100 or 200 people to perform CPR.”
Neither candidate supported the SAFE Act, and both are proponents of gun ownership.
Nobody loves higher taxes
Where do they stand on the major issues? They were interviewed on three: taxes, term limits and drugs.
Taxes have been a sore issue between the two competitors.
“I wanted to make it so that property taxes don’t become a burden,” said O’Connor. “We could change property taxes overnight. Some of the towns in our district are seeing nine, ten percent tax increases. The only way we can offset that is by bringing more money down from the state itself.”
Tague sent out campaign literature to county residents pointing out that O’Connor had voted to raise the tax cap in Greene County. O’Connor explained that, while he had, in fact, worked with Republican legislators to adopt a local law allowing taxes to exceed the two percent cap, he did so in order to secure support in voting against the budget itself, thus negating any actual raise in taxes. In a counter-punching enfilade, O’Connor pointed out the irony in Tague’s statement, pointing to local newspaper evidence that his opponent moved not only to adopt the same local law but further to adopt the proposed budget, which increased taxes to 3.56%. At the time, Tague told a Schoharie reporter that he “didn’t like voting for tax increases, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet.”
Both competitors believe wholeheartedly in term limits, and think term limits would be a step toward whipping Albany into better ethical shape. Both said that they would impose a term limit on themselves if necessary.
“I think that term limits help eliminate the self-serving that goes on in Albany,” said Tague. “I didn’t do this for myself, I made a heck of a lot more money and had more time on my hands when I was in the private sector. I saw this as an opportunity to do well for my community. I don’t know if I would stay for six two-year terms. Someday I’m going to wake up and say ‘I worked my hardest, I don’t feel as though I can be as effective any more.’ It’s about the people—when your time is done, you’re done,”
Marijuana and opioids
The two differed on their opinion of marijuana legalization, which may be around the bend for New Yorkers. O’Connor said that recreational marijuana would be a viable tool against the rampant opioid epidemic. While he supported medicinal marijuana, Tague wanted more answers for how the drug would be regulated before he would support legislation legalizing it recreationally.
O’Connor’s stance has been informed by his experiences as a paramedic. “We should absolutely have legalized marijuana, we already have it available medically,” said O’Connor. “We could start prescribing it lieu of pain medication. If a bill came before me to legalize marijuana recreationally, I would say yes. I think it would help upstate New York, both in terms of growing it and in using it instead of traditional pharmacology.”
Both candidates are in favor of Narcan training.
“I’ve seen the opioid overdoses firsthand,” O’Connor said. “I’ve been there to give Narcan, and so I’ve seen life and death when it comes to the crisis. Since being a legislator, I’ve instated medication drop-off boxes, needle drop bins. Whether for recreational or prescribed use, you can drop them off free of charge to be safely disposed. I’ve also hosted Narcan training courses. I’m in favor of legislation that makes sure pharmaceutical companies are held liable for the cost of the medication.”
Tague has also put thought into solutions for the rampant drug crisis. “It’s good to have funding for Narcan and Narcan training, but we need to stop the disease before it gets to where we need to use Narcan” he said. “We need to do a better job at education. That’s something I’ve committed myself to, and I’ve worked very hard on that every since I was a town supervisor.”
Tague says the state legislature is looking at providing — or working with folks that could provide — from a 100-to-150-bed recovery facility that would offer rehab for more than six months. “That’s the other issue with the opioid and heroin epidemic,” he said. “People need more than that six months of rehabilitation.”
Experience and effectiveness
What does Tague think puts him ahead of O’Connor as a legislator? Tague cites his experience:
“There’s quite a difference in age between the two of us,” he said. “He’s a very bright and enthusiastic young man. I have no animosity towards him at all. We just have a different set of opinions. It comes down to real-life experience, and my experience as both being a CEO of a town government and actually comparing and working a budget. I started off at the bottom floor and ended up at the top. I can work with others, and I’m a hard worker. If you look at the experience level, there’s a huge difference.”
O’Connor felt compelled to run for an Assembly seat, he said, because there has never been someone from District 102 in the Assembly majority during his lifetime. “I think it was plausible to tell people that I’m from here, and that I understand the upstate way of life, but would still bring money back here,” he said.
Saugerties voters can find their polling places at www.ulstercountyny.gov.