Four-term incumbent county legislator Mary Wawro will be challenged this November by fresh-faced Aaron Levine, a 30-year-old Blue Mountain resident who is seeking the endorsement of the Democratic and Working Families parties. Levine has worked as the assistant coordinator of the state Assembly communications department. Currently, he runs his family’s janitorial company, Extreme Facility Cleaning.
Wawro has run a family daycare, Mary’s Little Lambs, in Saugerties since 1994. Some 25 kids are currently enrolled, and talkative children can often be heard by constituents in the background of their phone conversations with their legislator. Wawro has five children and four grandchildren.
Levine listed his reasons for entering the race. “I want to run because I think, primarily, I think that the people of my age, the younger generation need to step up and get involved in politics and government in their communities. We’re the next generation that needs to step up and be involved in the decision-making process in our towns, counties and states,” said Levine. “I felt that we need to get involved and put our money where our mouth is instead of just complaining.”
A 2010 graduate with a degree in government and politics at Saint John’s University, Levine served as an intern on the staff of U.S. senator and minority leader Chuck E. Schumer. He worked as a campaign staffer for Assembly members Didi Barrett and Addie Jenne until 2016. He joined the Saugerties Democratic Committee to support Antonio Delgado in last year’s congressional election, and “decided to throw [his] hat in the ring” when he saw no other Democrat coming forward in the county legislative district.
Levine said that he hopes to reduce the local property-tax burden and to draw in business and job opportunities. “People that I went to high school with that had to leave because they couldn’t find work here. That’s the unfortunate reality,” said Levine. “I want to make sure that the next generation and the people even younger than myself I want them to be able to own a home here, raise a family and put down their roots.”
Levine is concerned about protecting the environment and about the oft-discussed opiod epidemic. “The opiod issue… is hopefully something we can tackle locally on up,” he said. “I’m not sure how effective [combating it on a national level] can be, but working on the town and county level and working up to state legislation is the way to go on this. I’m sure everyone in our district has somebody in their family or knows somebody who has been affected by this.”
Incumbent Mary Wawro, 60, has put in work on a legislative level to raise awareness about opiod addiction and search for solutions. A member of the Hope Rocks Committee, which puts on an annual festival that pairs local musical talent with resources for those effected by opiod addiction and suicide, Wawro cosponsored a budget amendment that added an opiod abuse tip line to the sheriff’s department, and has supported initiatives to fund Narcan training courses in Saugerties.
“We have to invest in stopping the drugs from hitting the streets in the first place,” said Wawro. “Without resourses, it’s impossible for law enforcement to keep up. We need more education across the board. One way our youth is becoming addicted is through the prescription pain medication prescribed for sports injuries. We have made strides in getting people into rehab but not nearly enough. We need a support system once they are out of rehab. Sober homes have little or no regulation. I’m not sure I how but I will continue to educate the general public on the fact that addiction is a disease. Just saying no to drugs isn’t working.”
This year, Wawro cosponsored the ‘Bring Your Own Bag’ law, which will ban the proliferation of plastic bags by local supermarkets in favor of reuseable cloth bags starting in 2020. She initiated a county-wide ban on polystyrene containers. Deputy chair of the county legislature’s Energy and Environment Committee, she also sits on several other legislative committees.
“I just wanted to make a difference,” she said. “I had the opportunity, it was offered to me. I took the challenge and I’ve enjoyed it, even though I have no life to myself any more. Literally every day is a meeting for me, but I enjoy it.”
Wawro said that her real-time experience on the legislature gives her a leg up in the race.