With the retirement of incumbent Republican George Amedore, State Senate District 46, which stretches from northern Ulster County to the Capital Region, is up for grabs. Democrats, who already have a decisive majority, are hoping 32-year-old Michelle Hinchey, daughter of the late U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, can turn the district blue and achieve a veto-proof supermajority. She supports a slate of progressive legislation, including expanded healthcare, marijuana legalization, and new taxes on the wealthy.
On the GOP side, retired state trooper Richard Amedure of Rensselaerville hopes to hold the line. On his website, Amedure pledges to advocate for small businesses and family farms, and criticizes the state’s bail-reform and discovery-reform laws as “devastating” to “our communities and law enforcement.” We were unable to reach Amedure despite three weeks of efforts.
Robert Alft, Jr. is on the ballot as the Green Party candidate, and Gary Greenberg has announced a write-in candidacy for the Democratic line.
Listening to people
Michelle Hinchey was born and raised in Saugerties. She attended Cornell University, where she studied industrial and labor relations, and afterward, worked in corporate communications for media and advertising companies in New York City. She launched her campaign at the Senate House in Kingston last fall, the same place her father launched his first campaign 47 years earlier. Maurice Hinchey lost that campaign for State Assembly, but he won his next one, part of a post-Watergate Democratic wave. He went on to win an election every two years thereafter, first for the State Assembly and then, beginning in 1992, for Congress. He retired at end of 2012 and died in 2017 at age 79.
In an interview, Michelle Hinchey invoked her locally famous father several times, from him showing her what constituent work was like at a young age, what it was like dealing with health-insurance co-pays during his illness, and why there was a need to continue the crusade for a clean environment, his signature issue.
“On Saturdays, I would spend time with my dad by getting in the car and driving from Saugerties to Poughkeepsie to Newburgh, to Binghamton, then Ithaca, then back to Woodstock and listening to people,” said Hinchey. “You know, on those trips it was all about meeting with people and hearing their issues and seeing different communities and recognizing the things we can do better as well as the things that were going well. Everything from ‘thank you so much you helped my mom be able to stay in her home’ to ‘please help me, I’m struggling to get my veterans’ benefits.’ And that really shaped the way you see the world.”
Hinchey stresses the need for more upstate voices in the State Senate’s Democratic conference. She says we have different issues than downstate. She singled out access to broadband internet, an issue that has gained more attention due to the urgent need to transition quickly to remote learning for the state’s K-12 students.
“[Our students] can’t learn from home if they don’t have reliable Internet,” said Hinchey. “If our families have one car, they’re struggling with someone in the family going to work or driving to sit in the library, or the library parking lot, so their kids can get internet access to go to school. That’s unacceptable. We’ve failed people if we’ve allowed ourselves to get here.”
Other major issues
Hinchey also spoke about local environmental issues. “Toxic dumping is a big thing that’s been expanding here in our communities locally. It’s happening in Saugerties, it’s happening in Hurley, it’s happening in Woodstock, and it’s expanding further. This was an issue that my dad fought against decades ago, and somehow here we are having a very similar if not the same conversation.” Hinchey said it’s important for the state to be involved so that polluters don’t simply move over a town or county line to continue their activities.
A related issue is green energy. Hinchey said it’s important for the state to follow through with 2019’s New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which sets ambitious goals for the state’s renewable-energy use, including 100 percent emission-free electricity by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. This will mean investing in and expanding green-jobs sector of the economy. “That covers white-collar jobs and blue-collar jobs,” she said.” Everything from retrofitting, manufacturing, carbon-capture, innovation, it runs the gamut.”
Housing prices are a growing concern, particularly in Ulster County. Hinchey believes the state government has a role to play. She supports recent legislation to allow municipalities across the state to limit rent increases, and said the state should invest more in intergenerational and supportive housing, in helping seniors retrofit their homes so they can age in place, and in converting vacant public buildings into housing. “There’s so much we could be doing at a state level to make sure people can still afford to live here,” she said.
Hinchey supports universal healthcare on the state level in the absence of a national program. She said the legislation that would do this, the New York Health Act, needed some tweaking, including guarantees that union workers don’t lose benefits and more details about long-term care benefits. “I think that everybody deserves quality, affordable healthcare,” said Hinchey. “Just a quick story on my side, I saw this firsthand when my dad was sick. He was diagnosed with a type of dementia, frontotemporal degeneration, and you could think as a congressman that he may have some of the best health insurance, and we actually had to sell land to pay for his home care. And if that’s what we’re going through, I’m sorry, but what is everybody else going through? So it’s something that’s gone on far too long, with people not having access to the resources not only that they need but that they deserve.”
Seeing past the divisions
These investments will not be cheap. Although the pandemic-induced economic slowdown has caused a sharp decline in state revenues, Hinchey believes New York State can’t be run on an austerity budget. “We need to find new and creative revenue streams to make sure we are funding our public institutions, that we are funding out public schools, and that we are funding our hospitals and our first responders, and our firehouses.” She said. The solution, as she sees it, is “expanding a tax not on the middle class but explicitly on the billionaires and the people who have made an additional $400 billion during this crisis while the rest of us are struggling to figure out how to put food on the table, if we’re going to have a job in two months. We’ve got to make that those people who have been really fortunate in their lives are stepping up to help the rest of their neighbors.”
Finally, we asked Hinchey how she feels about the current moment. How does it feel to be running for office against a backdrop of a pandemic, riots, looting, polarization, another rancorous Supreme Court nomination battle, and very question of the peaceful transfer of the power of the presidency now an open question? Are we coming apart or are these just growing pains?
“We’re definitely seeing extreme divisions,” she replied. “And we’re surrounded by so much negativity, especially with Covid happening as well. We’re surrounded by all these issues that can, if you immerse yourself in them or think about them all the time, it can feel really hopeless. But it’s not.”
Hinchey believes issues like the environment and the need for infrastructure should not be partisan, and that good-faith communication can arrive at solutions. She’s an optimist. “It’s easy to be swallowed by everything that’s going on in the national conversations and deaths, and illness, and division, and all of these things, but if we can see past that a little bit, and see how much we can do, and how much further we have to go with the work and the energy and the dedication, there’s a lot to be hopeful for.”
Amedure in brief
Richard Amedure’s campaign website says he has dedicated his life and career to protecting and serving our communities. He’s defined by his public-service record. He recently retired after service as a state trooper for 30 years.
“A longtime resident of Rensselaerville, Rich helped clean up rampant political corruption in the town and has served on its planning board for several years. Through this and his own efforts as the owner of a small farm, he’s gained a positive reputation for his efforts to preserve green space and maintain the local character of the town.”
As a state trooper, “he’s seen just how devastating the bail and discovery reform laws have been to our communities and to law enforcement. Rich brings these first-hand experiences to the Senate, so he can lead the fight to repeal these laws.”