Later this month, the Republican Primary to find a candidate for the fall election in New York State Assembly's 131st District will be held despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this year, Assemblyman Brian Kolb, R-Victor, announced that he would not seek re-election after a DWI crash near his home. While that case remains unresolved and in the courts, his potential successors have lined up.
Former Canandaigua City Councilor Cindy Wade, Seneca County Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Shipley, Seneca County Farm Bureau President Ann Marie Heizmann, and Manchester Town Supervisor Jeff Gallahan are vying to succeed Kolb, and bring the kind of representation the region has depended on over the last two decades.
The seat, which is often referred to as the “Finger Lakes Seat,” has been pivotal over the years in getting issues involving tourism, the environment, and rural challenges to Albany. The district consists of all of Ontario County and approximately half of Seneca County.
On Wednesday May 27, a debate was held involving all four candidates. Given the challenges around campaigning, it was the only scheduled opportunity to see them in action against each another.
Without much surprise, a large portion of the debate focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, economic shutdown, and how to most-quickly get upstate New York running again.
"The COVID shutdown has really decimated our state, our economy," Shipley said. "By most projections it’s going to take four years to reach the levels where we were by the end of 2019, so I think we need to be looking at creating a better business climate." He said improving the economy through simplifying the regulations around small businesses is a priority of his campaign. "There is a bipartisan piece of legislation involving corporate tax rates – lowering corporate tax rates for one – and tripling the income exclusion for LLC’s," he continued. Among other reopening strategies, the chamber leader said clearing the way for LLC’s to operate more effectively in the regional and state economy is crucial.
Gallahan contended that the financial distress started long before the Coronavirus. "It's not something that happened in the last three, four, or five months," he explained. "It's been going on for quite some time. It's been coming out of Albany, and it's been dreadful for all of us upstate." He said that legislators need to work together to come up with ways to make the business environment across New York State better. As for executing it, the supervisor said he will be more able to work with legislators across the aisle in Albany if elected.
Heizmann said while she agreed budget problems have persisted for years, spending is the central issue. "We need to actually take a real good, hard look at how we spend our money," she said. "Because there are too many things that we do that are just not efficient." She noted the number of agencies required to review individual items if you are a farmer. Those excessive layers of bureaucracy, Heizmaann contended, creates stagnation and challenge in the 131st.
Meanwhile, Wade honed in on Medicaid. "We need to revise the Medicaid program. We need to unfund parts of it," she said. "We're currently looking at a $13 billion deficit that could be $61 billion in the next four years. Financially we need to pick apartment where the fraud, waste, and overspend is [happening]." The former city councilor also took issue with Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan to “put New York back to work,” which she said directs more spending downstate, and will do little to help upstate. "We all have to work together. What will three projects, worth hundreds of millions, do for the upstate economy if they're in New York City?"
To be clear, it is uncertain if those projects will go forward. They were subject of a meeting between President Donald Trump and Governor Cuomo last week. They would also require federal funding to make happen.
The candidates also committed to not running if not chosen by voters in the June 23 primary. Gallahan and Wade have received support and endorsements from other parties and could still appear on the ballot if not chosen by Republicans. Shipley and Heizmann have not sought endorsements from other parties.