Three vie for state assembly seat

Pete Lopez

Pete Lopez

HILLTOWNS — Three candidates of various backgrounds and party affiliations are running for a seat in the New York State Assembly in a special election held on April 24.

The candidates are:

Aidan O’Connor, a Democratic Greene County legislator, running on the Democratic, Working Families, and Women's Equality party lines;

Chris Tague, the Republican supervisor of the town of Schoharie, running on the Republican, Conservative, Independence, and Reform party lines; and

Wes Laraway, a Republican running on the Best Choice party line, a party he created.

The seat was formerly held by Pete Lopez, a Republican who served for over a decade before resigning this past September. Lopez took a position with the Environmental Protection Agency as a regional administrator.

The 102nd District includes all of Schoharie and Greene counties, and parts of Albany, Columbia, Ulster, Delaware, and Otsego Counties. In Albany County, it includes the towns of Coeymans, Rensselaerville, and Westerlo. Towns like Middleburgh and Schoharie in Schoharie County border the Hilltowns of Berne and Knox.

The candidates were asked about the following issues:

Upstate and downstate: Do you believe that upstate residents are fairly represented in the State Assembly? If not, how will you help give your constituents a voice?

Businesses: What efforts can or should be done to help businesses in the 102nd District be established or thrive?

Online shopping tax: The state budget did not include a proposed law to expand the internet sales tax. Should such a sales tax be in place?

Opioid epidemic: The budget did include a $100 million fee on opioid manufacturers to combat opioid addiction. Do you support this? What other measures should be taken to combat the opioid epidemic?

Solar arrays: Areas in the 102nd District are seeing a new push to build solar arrays. Do you support such efforts? Are there either incentives or regulations that should be put in place on solar?

School aid: Do you believe that rural school districts are getting their fair share of state education aid?

— Abortion: Another item not included in the state budget would have removed abortion from the penal law and have allowed it to be performed at any point during pregnancy. Do you believe this should have been passed or not?



Aidan O’Connor


Aiden O'Connor Jr.


HILLTOWNS — Aidan O’Connor, a first-term Democratic Greene County legislator, hopes to address the issues of the 102nd District with the majority party.

O’Connor began as a volunteer on the Greenville Rescue Squad before becoming a paramedic for Greene County. He joked that he couldn’t even celebrate being certified as a paramedic at the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill because he was only 20, too young to drink.

O’Connor, now 30, became a flight paramedic five years later for the company LifeNet of New York, which provides air-based medical transportation in the Northeast. He now works as a business manager there and continues to volunteer as a paramedic in Greenport, Columbia County, and to work as a paramedic instructor at SUNY Cobleskill.

O’Connor is now two years into his first three-year term for the Greene County Legislature, representing Durham. He has served committees on health, tourism, and economics. As a Democrat, he was also made the minority leader on the legislature this year.

Should he be elected to the State Assembly, O’Connor would be in the majority party. He says he will bring the same enthusiasm that his predecessor Pete Lopez, a Republican, brought, but with the influence of the majority party. Like Lopez, he said, he will be constituent-based, but with differing opinions on policies.

“The ability to bring more money, pass more legislation pertinent to upstate New York,” he said. “I felt like I should jump in and try to connect a lot of the services that we either have started at a local level and connect them to the state level.”

O’Connor’s background as an emergency responder has influenced which policies he backs. Before serving on the legislature, he was a state advocacy coordinator for the National Association of EMTs and lobbied for laws increasing emergency responder members and patients and “to improve patient outcomes.” As a legislator, he has helped fund EMS services and created programs for community defibrillators, and for classes on cardiopulmonary resuscitation and administering Narcan for opioid overdoses.

Emergency responders and health-care providers overall are suffering from low pay and lack of resources, he said. At the state level, O’Connor said he would fight for funding for emergency responders. He also would promote in-patient visits by emergency responders to home-bound patients.

As EMS agencies lose funds and volunteers, O’Connor said the state should have a comprehensive study looking at transitioning to paid employees as well as the savings volunteers provide.

In combating the opioid epidemic, O’Connor said he would like to bring local initiatives to the state level. Around Durham, he said, he has worked to add more medication and drop boxes. He has also helped create a form that first responders can leave with those who’ve had an overdose “to connect them with long-term resources.”

As a state assemblyman, O’Connor said he would want to bring in a grant to the 102nd District for inpatient services that would help addicts by sponsoring their rehabilitation or treatment. He said that the opioid companies should be funding grants like these, and must be held accountable. He hopes the $100 million collected from opioid companies will go to these services and not into the state’s general fund.

He also said that Narcan use should be monitored and replenished at a cost-effective rate to keep emergency responders equipped for opioid overdoses.

“It’s certainly increasing their budget line item,” he said, of emergency responders’ use of Narcan.

O’Connor said that legislation should be passed to ensure upstate dairy farmers have environmentally clean and safe property.

Currently, there are tax deductions and opportunities farmers and small businesses can take advantage of, said O’Connor. Bottom fund loans offer low or no-interest loans for new businesses.

“The biggest thing our businesses need is first and foremost is to, A, shop there,” he said.

Businesses also need infrastructure such as sewage and water lines and internet broadband, O’Connor said.

“That’s where we play the biggest role,” said O’Connor, of state legislation.

While state grants have funded better broadband access in rural areas like the 102nd District, O’Connor said that similar grants should also fund new water and sewer districts. Such grants already exist, he said, so it would be matter of bringing funds to the area. He described how businesses in areas such as along Route 145 in Durham would benefit immensely from water and sewer districts.

O’Connor also said he would be checking with businesses to ensure new legislation would not overregulate businesses.

O’Connor said he would support an online shopping tax that was not enacted with the state budget.

“Because our small businesses are collecting that tax,” he said. “If the internet service has that already advantage, it’s putting our local communities that much farther behind.”

“I’m a big fan of renewable energy,” said O’Connor. But he said that he was concerned about very large solar arrays being built to generate energy for outside areas. The arrays need to be planned out to ensure they will not conflict with historic properties or a town’s plan, he said.

He compared solar arrays in the area to natural resources like the watershed in the Catskills or the Catskill tourism industry. New York City residents are provided with water from reservoirs, and tourists come from many different places to visit state land.

“Solar, I think, is going to follow that,” O’Connor said. He cautioned that implementing solar arrays could restrict the municipalities, and said that towns need to implement the necessary planning so that landowners and residents benefit rather than other areas.

O’Connor also objected to Article 10 of the State Environmental Law, which removes solar arrays up to 25 megawatts from the local planning process. Instead, a siting board streamlines the process.

“There’s a lot in the planning stage,” O’Connor said, of such larger arrays being established in the area. “But I haven’t seen any that have formally gone through with it.”

“I think that we in the rural environment always, always, always will be behind the rest of anywhere else based off of numbers,” he said. “Where downstate New York has a lot of people and a lot of money, upstate New York doesn’t have a lot of money and doesn’t have a lot of people.”

He said that state funding for things like school aid and health care should be a “quality-based system, not a quantity-based system.”

O’Connor said that, due to low population in upstate New York, 27 of the 30 community colleges across the state are receiving less state aid in the current budget compared to the previous one. He said that the cost is then being placed on landowners through property taxes. Instead, he said, funds from income taxes from wealthier areas like New York City should be brought to rural upstate areas through funding such as grants.

Likewise, schools in rural areas lack funding, which he attributes to less funds from property taxes and lower income.

“We need the equation to be, more state funding than property taxes … ,” he said. “The funding is out there; it’s just a matter of bringing it back to our district.”

O’Connor said he believes in woman’s right to choose, but said he believes the state should abide by the current laws and have a definite time limit in place.

O’Connor said his goal as a legislator is to work with both parties and do what’s best for his community.

“And just like I was in health care, is to see every single person as somebody who, if they need help, I want to be there to give them a solution, to give them an answer,” he said.



Chris Tague


Chris Tague


HILLTOWNS — Chris Tague, a Republican in his first term as the Schoharie town supervisor, is hoping to make the jump to fill the seat long held by friend and fellow Republican Pete Lopez.

Tague is currently the chairman of the Schoharie County Republican Committee.

Tague, 48, was born and raised in the town of Schoharie. He lived with his grandparents, who owned a gas station and rest stop in Carlisle. When Tague was growing up, his grandfather, a World War II veteran, was his hero.

Tague began working on his uncle’s farm at age 12, and took out a loan at 18 for his own dairy farm. He said he began with 25 cows and had about 150 by the time he sold his business in 1992.

He sold the business for the same reason dairy farmers continue to struggle, due to decreasing milk prices. Tague began working as a laborer in a quarry, and worked his way up to be the manager of the company in 2006. Tague said he is proud to have held a job since he was 12, but says he will leave his current job should be elected assemblyman.

“We need someone to do the same job or better than he could,” said Tague, referring to Lopez.

Tague’s grandfather had served as a town councilman in Esperance, and his father was also Schoharie County treasurer. As a child, Tague campaigned for his father.

“At the age of 12, I ran my first political campaign,” he said.

Tague said that he first became interested in local government in 2011, after Tropical Storm Irene stuck the area, which destroyed his own home.

“I wanted to make my community better,” he said.

He said he attended a town board meeting and was discouraged with the answers given by the current government in response to the storm. So Tague ran for supervisor and won in 2015 in a three-way race against an incumbent who had served four years as a councilman and four years as supervisor.

Tague said that he is close with Lopez, and has worked on his campaigns in the past. Around the time Lopez resigned, said Tague, the former assemblyman called him and said he should consider running for his seat.

As supervisor, Tague said, he has brought economic development to the town and broadened the tax base. He said he did this by using his people skills to bring in businesses.

“We were able to bring some good businesses in,” he said.

Tague gave an example of a feed mill in Center Bridge that had closed down and was in disrepair. He reached out to the company Hoober Feeds, based in Pennsylvania, and the company agreed to run the mill.

“We brought them here and we sold not only the location but the people and the community to them,” he said.

Tague also said that he and Senator James Seward of Oneonta worked to get a $200,000 grant for the company to put in rail siding at the plant, as well as a $40,000 grant for maintenance. The company now has 10 to 15 employees, a sales manager, and four trucks, he said, and is looking to expand.

A church flooded and abandoned after Irene was also later rehabilitated as a business, said Tague. He said he worked with a business owner to start a gym there.

Tague said that revitalizing businesses involves playing to an area’s strengths, which he says is agriculture in Schoharie County. While farmers are struggling, said Tague, agriculture is seeing a “rebound” with farm-to-table programs. Businesses can use micro-enterprise grants from the state to operate businesses, which Tague says need to be long-lasting and provide jobs.

As an assemblyman, Tague says he would use connections in both the private and public sector to revitalize businesses.

One way to help local farmers, said Tague, is to cut back on dairy imports out of places like Canada. At the state level, Tague said, he was happy that agricultural assistance was increased in the state budget. He said that the state should also create a comprehensive farm bill that would include provisions to benefit farmers who sell locally.

“For too long, our farmers have been forgotten,” he said.

Tague said he would not support the bill to tax internet sales. He says that companies should be allowed to expand their business over the internet. The money saved from not adding a state sales tax to online retail purchases could be spent at local businesses elsewhere, Tague said.

“I would not support that whatsoever … ,” he said. “We have taxed people enough in this state.”

Tague said he would be willing to work on both sides of the aisle, and said he would like to continue an initiative started by Lopez to bring downstate lawmakers to tour upstate New York and understand issues in upstate. But he said that he has an advantage as someone in the minority party, because he would not be swayed by the Democratic power of downstate lawmakers in the assembly, he said.

“The assembly is quite lopsided … ,” he said. “I’ll make them accountable.”

“A freshman Democrat in upstate New York is just going to go lockstep ... with whatever the Democratic leadership tells him to do,” he said.

Tague said that he supports solar arrays being built in the area, noting that the town was one of the first in the area to develop a solar law and issue solar permits. A solar farm law is currently in the process of being enacted, he said.

“Those projects have to be taken on a case-by-case process,” he added. He said that solar arrays shouldn’t be put in a residential or agricultural area.

The town was also awarded a Clean Energy Communities grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and is scheduled to receive another, he said. If it’s done properly and in areas where the property isn’t good for anything else, solar arrays can benefit a community by providing energy at a lower rate to residents or bringing in revenues for a town through a payment in lieu of taxes, he said.

The planning for solar arrays should be limited to the local municipal government, he said, adding that he is a proponent of home rule.

Tague said the problem with the opioid epidemic is a lack of awareness. He said he’s had two family members suffer from opioid addiction; one died and the other is recovering from addiction.

He initially blamed both his relatives for their addiction before he was elected supervisor and attended a county board of supervisors meeting and met Norine Hodges, the executive director of the Schoharie County Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.

“And she enlightened me,” he said. Tague said he came to understand that addiction is an illness and must be cured with rehabilitation. He also said he joined the council and went on to hold a town forum to spread awareness. As a legislator, he would like to continue spreading awareness.

“They need to be in treatment for more than six months,” he said, adding that it should be at least 18 months, in his experience. Tague said that insurance companies need to provide coverage to keep people in treatment longer.

“They need to hold the feet to the fire of our insurance companies,” he said. He said he believes people may not stay in treatment longer because it is no longer covered.

“It’s a serious problem,” he said, adding that in one year Schoharie County had 12 deaths from drug overdoses. The county’s population is about 31,000.

Opioid dealers need to be held accountable as well, he said.

Tague said he is pro-life, and believes that the current state laws should be left in place and that there are better things to do than revisit these laws.

“I believe in the right to life,” he said. “But we have laws and we respect those laws.”

Tague said that he was pleased to see an increase in education aid in the state budget, but said “I think we can do better.” While the Schoharie School District has seen an increase in enrollment, most schools in rural areas like the 102nd District have seen less aid and more of a burden on tax levies, he said.

Tague said that he hopes to use his experience, both in government and business, to get things done.

“It’s time to take all my experience … time to take that to work and help people,” he said.




Wes Laraway


Wes Laraway


HILLTOWNS — Wes Laraway, a political outsider running on his own party line, is hoping to beat two major-party candidates to represent the 102nd District.

Laraway was born in Cobleskill and grew up in Middleburgh. He attended the State University of New York College at Oneonta for teaching, and went on to teach at Middleburgh, where he has been teaching for decades.

Laraway has never held a political position before, but instead has been involved in community organizations and other services. He is active in the school district, taking students on international trips. He helps maintain the Middleburgh Cemetery and is an active member of the Middleburgh Historical Association. He is also involved with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Rotary club.

He and his wife have also been involved in wildlife rehabilitation for the last 50 years. They work with the New York State Llama and Alpaca Association and with New York Wildlife Rescue. On their own farm, they have rescued animals for the last 20 years, he said.

Laraway, a Republican, is not running on either major-party line. Instead, he created his own party, “The Best Choice Party,” and gathered almost 2,200 signatures to run, more than the 1,500 required, he said.

“I want to be everyone’s candidate,” he said. “Not just the candidate of my party.”

Laraway said that both the Democrats and Republicans had chosen their own candidates for the seat “behind closed doors.” He said he is running because he believes he won’t be affected by partisanship.

“I believe I could somehow make difference,” he said.

He said that he believes voter allegiance to political parties will change at this election and the November election, saying that voters are fed up with what he describes as “politics as usual,” or caring only about getting reelected.

Laraway said he is running on a platform of five points: term limits, campaign-finance reform, bringing technology to rural areas, right to farm, and skills-based education for students.

Laraway said that term limits should vary depending on the office and length of term, but said no politician should be in office for more than four to six years. He also said there should be a cap on how much money can be spent on a campaign or how much a candidate can contribute.

Laraway emphasized technology as a factor in several different issues in the 102nd District. Internet broadband is finally being extended to rural areas with state funding, he said, but needs to continue.

By increasing access to technology, businesses will be attracted to the area, said Laraway.

“It’s very hard to attract these types of businesses if you don’t have the tech,” he said.

Regulation of solar arrays, he said, should be done at the local level, but he said that the state could encourage building arrays with tax incentives.

More wind and solar energy systems also need to be established, he said, because it will help residents such as farmers. Laraway said electricity is the one of the biggest costs for his farm, and by putting solar panels on his roof he cut the cost dramatically.

Energy grants for farmers could be implemented to help cut their costs, he said. Farmers in the area need to be supported, and asked why milk, for example, is brought in from other states when New York dairy farmers are going out of business, said Laraway.

Technology would also help provide students with vocational skills, said Laraway, who wants to offer educational paths toward a career for students. While this is already being done with the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES, he suggested adding an internship or mentorship component to continue a student’s path to his or her vocation.

“Because not every kid is going to go to college,” he said.

Laraway said that some online retailers already are taxed, and said he would not like to create an additional tax. He added that he would have to look carefully at any bill that would add a new tax.

Laraway said that the opioid epidemic must be approached with both preventative measures and treatment.

“It’s a two-way street,” he said. He suggested students should have to listen to victims who’ve suffered from an addiction, rather than simply telling children, “Don’t do drugs.”

Laraway also said that treatment for an addiction needs to be covered by insurance, either public or private insurance, so that addicts are not paying for treatment out of pocket.

Laraway said that schools in rural areas like the 102nd District are not getting their fair share in state aid. He noted that Middleburgh,  which serves a large area, needs more funding for transportation. He said that districts are also relying too heavily on property taxes.

“There has to be a limit to what property owners can pay in taxes,” he said.

Laraway said that he supports a woman’s right to choose but says that he believes abortions should not be allowed late in a pregnancy. He said that he supports abortions being used in cases of rape or incest but does not think they should be used as “birth control.”

He encouraged residents of the 102nd District to “get out and vote” for their preferred candidates.


More Regional News

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