Porter and Perlee vie to replace Stevens in 31st District

Jeff Perlee

Jeff Perlee

Fran Porter

Fran Porter

ALBANY COUNTY — Two neighbors who live on the border of Altamont and Knox are running to represent the county legislature’s 31st District, replacing Republican Travis Stevens, who is not running again.

Both stress the importance of representing the rural district in the county and each has a background in the public sector.

Jeff Perlee, 55, an Altamont resident and a Republican, is running on the GOP line, as well as the Independence Party and Conservative lines. The former director of the New York State lottery, he is now the president of Lottery Rewards Holdings, a private company’s website where lottery players can enter their ticket numbers a second time around.

Fran Porter, also an Altamont resident and a Democrat, is running on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines. She formerly directed the New York Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, before retiring and becoming more civically active, most recently with Pat Strong’s campaign for state senate.

Perlee and Porter both live in the sliver of Guilderland between the border of Knox and Altamont on Route 156. The 31st District covers parts of three towns: rural western Guilderland — including the village of Altamont and the hamlet of Guilderland Center — about two-thirds of Knox, and the northeast corner of Berne.

Stevens, a Knox resident, has represented the district since 2012, shortly after the district was redrawn. Stevens told The Enterprise in an email last month that he will not be running for reelection.

“I would like to thank my family, friends and neighbors for their support,” he wrote.

Jeff Perlee

Perlee grew up in Altamont on Helderberg Avenue before later moving to McKownville and graduating from Guilderland High School. He attended Duke University School of Law and eventually moved to Chicago to work at a large firm there.

He was later hired as general counsel to the Illinois lottery before returning to the area in 1995 to serve as the director of the New York State Lottery, where he worked for the next four years. He eventually moved to a home “up the Hill” at the border of Knox.

Upon returning to the area, Perlee said that Altamont was not doing well, with more storefronts empty than full. He helped to set up a task force to redo Main Street, and with his brothers bought a building at the corner of Main Street and Maple Avenue to create the original Hungerford Market.

He also helped to found Altamont Community Tradition, which hosts the annual Victorian Holiday in the village along with other community events.

“It’s that kind of involvement of local talented people, not just Altamont but the whole region … If their interests and their talents can be facilitated and encouraged by local government then you can get really positive results from everybody,” he said.

Perlee was appointed by the governor to the Saratoga-Capital District State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commission; during the time he served, the Emma Treadwell Nature Center was opened at John Boyd Thacher State Park. As the only member at the time from Albany County, Perlee said it was important that the area was represented.

In 2013, Perlee started the company Lottery Rewards Holdings. The website — which Perlee said is currently being restructured — allows lottery players to play their numbers a second time around by entering or scanning the ticket numbers online for a “second-chance drawing.”

“Lottery is sort of the largest segment of the American consumer economy that is not digitally enabled,” he said. Because in most states the lottery can’t be played online, Perlee said he wanted to find a way to engage these consumers digitally. When the website was taken down in December to be redesigned, there were about 350,000 registered users in 17 states, he said.

Perlee said that he wants to ensure that the 31st District maintains an independent voice. As a Republican, he would be in the minority on the Democratic-majority legislature. But in recent years, the legislature, under the new direction of Democratic Chairman Andrew Joyce, has made bipartisan moves such as putting Republicans in charge of committees.

“What’s important is that we not go back to the way things used to be,” Perlee said. “Because we would be moving in a bad direction.”

Perlee would like to encourage business growth, particularly in the 31st District, by developing ecotourism. He said that focusing on issues like banning styrofoam could affect small businesses negatively by driving up their costs.

He would also, as a legislator, like to look at Albany County’s foster-care program. In 2010, Perlee became involved in the program as a foster parent, fostering five or six different children. He has since adopted his oldest child, aged 13, and is in the process of adopting his other two, ages 7 and 2.

One issue of concern for him is the prioritization of kinship care. Perlee says that well-trained foster parents in the community are bypassed for relatives who may be farther away or who are not as capable.

“I’m not pretending that, as a county legislator, I could have a direct influence on that,” he said. “But certainly I could be an informed, experienced voice.”

Fran Porter

Porter, 69, has lived in Altamont for over 30 years. This is her first run for political office, but she has worked in the public sector for years.

“I’m interested in being on the other side of legislation,” she said.

Porter grew up in Iowa and then graduated with a bachelor degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato where she double majored in psychology and speech with a minor in sociology. After graduating, she moved to New York to work at Opportunities for Chenango as a teacher in the Head Start program, before moving to Albany to work for the state’s Department of Labor. She eventually began working for the state’s health department and became the director of the WIC program, which helps to provide food for pregnant women, infants, and children.

“It’s very complex; it’s our second-largest program in New York State,” she said. “It’s a bureaucracy, but in a good way.”

Porter retired in 2005. Shortly after her granddaughter, who is now 8, began attending school, Porter became more politically active.

“I want to make sure she has a good legacy,” Porter said.

At first, she said, her activism focused on legislation and candidates in the federal government before she realized that the county government plays a key role in politics and, she said, makes more of a difference, and so she started attending county meetings.

“A lot of what happens in that government, especially Albany County, is influential: It affects the surrounding counties and because of the proximity to the state [capitol], it tends to influence the state legislation,” she said.

She quoted Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, who said that the Albany County Legislature in particular gives her a pulse on state legislative matters.

Porter is concerned about environmental issues like protecting water sources, infrastructure, and health and safety. Some important environmental issues include the Rapp Road landfill in Albany as well as protecting the water sources for wells in the Hilltowns.

She also wants to see more representation of the 31st District and rural Albany County. While she said she supports reducing the size of the legislature as well as redistricting, she says there needs to be ensured representation of the district.

While Porter said that she wants to bring jobs to the rural parts of the county to address issues like underemployment, she also wants to ensure growth in the community is managed well and is environmentally sound and affordable.

Porter also said that she has become concerned about the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, which the county legislature is now reviewing a bill to ban. She said that she originally was neutral on the issue because she understood they were used to help people quit smoking. But, after discovering how prevalent vaping has become among young people, she has become more concerned. She said that she also would like to look into what damage can occur in the lungs when using e-cigarettes.

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