Democratic candidates weigh in on issues in two county legislative races

GUILDERLAND — On June 25, Democrats are vying for the party line in two Guilderland districts — 30 and 32 — for seats in the Albany County Legislature.

In District 30, in the Westmere area of Guilderland, Dustin Reidy and Stephen Wickham are battling for the Democratic line.

Bryan Clenahan stepped down from representing District 30 a year before his term was up, to become a Guilderland town justice. Charles D. Cahill Jr. was appointed in his place but is not running.

In District 32, incumbent Paul Miller is vying with Mickey Cleary. District 32 covers the McKownville area of Guilderland and continues to the area around Dr. Shaw Road.

Cleary told The Enterprise that he decided to run because Miller wasn’t, and that Miller helped him start his campaign. Miller confirmed he had told the Guilderland Democratic chairman he would not be running.

“My stepson was very sick over the summer,” he explained. But, when his stepson’s condition improved, he decided he would run after all, Miller said. By then, Cleary said, he was already invested in his own campaign.

The Enterprise asked all four candidates about their relevant background and reasons for running as well as about these issues:

— Paid sick leave: Earlier this month, 11 Democrats joined 10 Republicans to vote down, 21 to 17, a proposed law that would have required Albany County employers to provide paid sick time to their workers. If this law is proposed again, perhaps in another form, would you back it? Why or why not? If you think it needs modification, what changes would you make?

— Nanny county: The Albany County Legislature has passed laws to regulate toxic toys and Styrofoam restaurant containers, to ban tiny plastic beads in cosmetics, to forbid the sale of tobacco and other nicotine products in pharmacies, and to ban smoking in county parks.

Are these measures worthwhile? Are they enforceable? Should they be legislated on a county level?

— Suburban poverty: Last year, 18 percent of Guilderland students came from poverty; that’s up from 5 percent a decade ago. Suburban poverty is more hidden than urban and rural poverty, and because of the spread-out nature of suburbs, often without public transportation, it is difficult for poor suburbanites to access centered city services.

What is being or should be done in Albany County to help the suburban poor?

— Opioids: While Albany County continues to pursue legal action against pharmaceutical companies involved in the opioid crisis, overdoses and addiction continue in Guilderland and elsewhere in the county.

The Sheriff’s Heroin Addiction Recovery Program, known as SHARP, has reduced re-incarceration by 28 percent for those who participated in the treatment program at Albany County’s jail, but the number of participants is small.

What is being done at the county level to prevent addiction in the first place and to deal with the crimes that often follow, and what more should be done?





District 30:  Wickham and Reidy

GUILDERLAND — Two newcomers, Steven D. Wickham and Dustin M. Reidy, are vying to become the Democratic candidate for the District 30 legislative seat that opened when Bryan Clenahan left on the last day of 2018 to become a Guilderland Town Justice, with one year remaining in his term.

Wickham has the endorsement of his legislative district committee.

Clenahan’s term is being filled out by Charles D. Cahill Jr., who is not running for re-election.

Legislative District 30 represents Westmere. Only enrolled Democrats who live in the district can vote in the primary. Democrats in the district make up almost one-quarter of the eligible Democrats in Guilderland.

Wickham is managing partner with his wife of Wickwood, LLC and, doing business as Wickwood Marketing, works full-time providing website design, development and management services, marketing services, and consulting to clients. He also provides coaching and publishing services to authors who wish to self-publish.

Wickham, 51, served on the Guilderland Conservation Advisory Council from 2009 through 2013 and was a founding member of the Guilderland Neighbors for Peace, which held protests for years at the corner of routes 20 and 155 against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has been vice president and board director since 2013 of Blue Ribbon Campaign Inc., a not-for-profit corporation that seeks to raise public awareness of environmental issues and to preserve healthy ecosystems.

Dustin M. Reidy has worked in issue advocacy and has helped manage and run voter outreach and election campaigns. In 2008, he helped start Albany for Obama, an all -volunteer campaign for Barack Obama. Reidy founded NY19Votes after the 2016 election to help bring together and train new activists that formed through the Women’s March and Indivisible movement.

The goal of NY19Votes was to show new volunteers and groups how to win elections at the local and state levels while laying groundwork to replace Republican John Faso in New York’s 19th Congressional District; Reidy has said that NY19Votes was a “big part” of helping Democrat Antonio Delgado win in November 2019 and flip the district.

Reidy, 39, served as campaign manager to Democrat Pat Strong in her unsuccessful bid last year to unseat Republican incumbent George Amedore in the State Senate’s District 46. Strong carried Guilderland and received 42 percent of the vote to Amedore’s 55 percent.

Both Wickham and Reidy said that they would back the recently defeated Paid Sick Leave Act.

Wickham said he was a strong supporter of the act and that he thought there were a couple of things that could make it better. The act would have required companies with five or more employees to provide paid sick leave; Wickham said he never saw any research into how that number was selected. He said five might be too small, and that 10 or more might be a better threshold.

Wickham also said that the small businesses he had worked for in the past had not had sufficient redundancy to be able to cover the workload of employees who call in sick. He also said that the way that the law would apply to companies that do part of their work outside the county should be clarified.

Reidy, meanwhile, said that he “would back it, sponsor it, advocate for it.” He called the act a “very modest step in the right direction to support working families in Albany County” and said that it is not only the right thing to do but also makes sense economically.

Reidy said that businesses lose money when their workers do not take care of their health and when they go to work while sick instead of going to the doctor, and spread illness at the workplace. Like Wickham, Reidy said that perhaps the threshold of five employees could be raised. Reidy suggested a longer phasing-in process as another possible modification, but emphasized that he is in favor of the bill “as it is right now.”

On the issue of whether Albany County is acting and should act as a “nanny county,” Wickham and Reidy both said that the measures passed so far — such as regulating toxic toys, banning Styrofoam restaurant containers, and banning smoking in county parks — are worthwhile, enforceable, and appropriate initiatives for the county to take.

“Some of them deal directly with pollution, and that is something I think we need to aggressively confront,” said Wickham.The ban on smoking in public parks was worthwhile “to curb people who smoke in public places and protect those who have to breathe the air,” he said.

Wickham said that all of these initiatives were done in other counties prior to being passed in Albany County and observed that dire predictions about what would happen if they were passed had not come true anywhere. The “same type of arguments,” he said, warning of “the collapse of the economy,” were offered by opponents of the Paid Sick Leave Act; he said no such collapse has occurred in other locales in the state where paid sick leave has been enacted.

Reidy, too, called these measures “worthwhile and enforceable on a county level.” He added, “Here in upstate New York, we’re not that far away from Hoosick Falls,” referring to a town in Rensselaer County where the water supply was found to be contaminated with levels of PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, far exceeding those deemed safe by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and state health officials

Reidy added that the county should take all the measures it can to fight climate change and said, “I think we should be proud that we’ve led the way in some of these pieces of legislation.”

Wickham pointed to increasing how far public transportation extends and how often it runs as an initiative the county could take to help address suburban poverty in Guilderland. The county should also, he said, help ensure that affordable housing is developed in Guilderland.

“There’s affordable housing in the city and a lot in rural areas beyond Guilderland, and with all the development we’re doing in Guilderland, we should be sure that there’s some affordable housing as well,” Wickham said.

He pointed to programs in Denver, Colorado; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Salt Lake City, Utah that he said could serve as models for developing affordable housing. Wickham also said the county might help with ensuring there are more affordable programs for kids, particularly during the summer months when school is out.

Reidy said the county should look at strengthening public transportation along Western Avenue. He voted in May for the Guilderland Public Library’s bond project to expand and improve the library, he said; if the town’s lower-income residents are unable to get to it because buses are infrequent and they don’t have cars, “it kind of defeats the purpose,” he said.

He wondered if a scooter ride-share program of the type seen in various cities might work in Guilderland, or if the Capital District Transportation Authority’s bike-sharing program could be extended from Albany to Guilderland.

Reidy said that, as he has been knocking on doors throughout Westmere, he has heard from residents that many roads are very dangerous for walkers in the morning or evening rush hours, naming as examples Fletcher Road, Venezio Avenue, and Van Wie Terrace, where, he said, “You need to keep your head on a swivel.”

Both Wickham and Reidy named the Chatham Cares For You program as a model for what more can be done to help those struggling with addiction. Established by Chatham Police Chief Peter Volkmann, Chatham Cares For You aims to get people with substance-abuse issues into treatment and recovery programs rather than into the criminal-justice system.

Wickham said that some places have had success creating programs that offer “safe places to use drugs without fear of arrest, and that leads to treatment.” He emphasized the need for creative solutions.

Reidy said, “We need to do everything to treat opioids as the public-health and humanitarian crisis that it is, instead of a criminal-justice issue.” He is in favor of anything that brings more treatment options, he said, including more training in the use of Narcan, a fast-acting drug that can be administered to reverse an opioid overdose.

“A lot of people get major surgeries and they are prescribed hydrocodone, and getting addicted to that is a perfectly natural human response,” Reidy said, adding that people on both sides of his family have lost battles with addiction.




District 32: Mickey Cleary

GUILDERLAND — Mickey Cleary, who has spent his career in public administration, is making his first run for office, to represent District 32 where he has lived since 1991.

“I raised my kids here,” he said.

Cleary, 57, a lifelong town resident, has been a Guilderland Democratic committeeman for 28 years, he said. He graduated from Guilderland High School and went on to get a degree in business administration from the State University of New York College at New Paltz.

He has been a member of the Guilderland Planning board for 18 years and, after working for the majority office at the county legislature and in the county executive’s office, currently works in operations for the state’s Office of Court Administration.

“We support the state courts,” he said.

“The reason I decided to run is because all the committee people wanted me to run when Paul Miller stepped down last September ... Paul helped me set up … then Paul got back in,” he said.

Asked about his goals, Cleary said he wants to “bring new and transparent representation to the 32nd District.” He also said he was a big supporter of veterans.

“I’ve done a lot with drug-treatment courts in my job and I believe they are very important,” he said.

Cleary concluded, “I want to be able to work with local officials in town … to see what we can do as a county to help the town, and to work with the state to get funds … I’m looking to help out the residents of the 32nd District and Albany County with my energy and openness.”

On paid sick leave, Cleary said he read the bill that was defeated this month and that he would have voted in favor of it had he been in the legislature.

As far as items like regulating sale of tobacco products or banning Styrofoam containers or toys with toxins, Cleary said, “I believe they should be legislated on the state level … Most if not all,” he said of the items listed by The Enterprise “are very good.”

But, he said, the county needs to be on a level playing ground. Cleary said that, if requirements are put in place that are costly for businesses, they may well move or set up elsewhere. This wouldn’t happen, he noted, if regulations were set by the state rather than by the county.

About suburban poverty, Cleary said that there needs to be “more outreach and publicity about it so the people that need it know where it is and can access it,” he said of services.

Cleary went on, about the figure from the State Education Department for “economically disadvantaged” students in the Guilderland schools — 878 out of 4,814 — “Eighteen percent is a high number in the town of Guilderland.”

He concluded, “Getting it out there … That’s what needs to be done.”

On dealing with the opioid crisis, Cleary said, “I’m a big proponent of drug-treatment court.” He noted that locally such programs are available in Albany Family Court, in Albany City Court, and in Albany County Court.

He said, “The county supports drug courts. They put in the public defender, the district attorney, the police officers. They provide treatment.”

Cleary also “very much supports” the “separate track for veterans,” he said, offering veterans in drug court mentors and other aid.

“The problem with opiates is people are dying from them,” said Cleary. “It’s not like the drug of choice four or five years ago when people are addicted and they’re committing crimes because of that. With opiates, people are dying,” he stressed again.

While, he said, the sheriff is doing a “great job” with the SHARP program and drug courts offer “great programs,” an opiate court is needed because those who come before the bench “get arraigned and go right to treatment … ,” Cleary said, “so they don’t overdose and die.”

He compared that to the drug court where, he said, “It takes a week or two to get assessed and into the program.” Cleary went on, “It’s hard because you’ve got to get them to buy into it and want to do it …

“Just like drug courts, when you have a felony over someone’s head instead of a misdemeanor, it’s a bigger hammer.”

Cleary said the state has given out grants — starting in big cities like New York, Buffalo, and Rochester — to plan for opioid courts. But the impetus, he said, can come from the ground up, and he’d like to see Albany County pursue it. He noted the county would have to work with the courts.

“It’s definitely something you want in Albany County,” he concluded of courts of opioid addicts.



District 32: Paul Miller

GUILDERLAND — In his four years in the Albany County Legislature, Paul Miller is proudest of the three bills he sponsored, which were passed into law, to protect people from tobacco.

“Some of my relatives passed away from cancer recently,” Miller said, explaining his motivation for sponsoring the bills.

He added that constituent Carol Waterman, who has been “involved in the crusade for years,” involved him, too.

The bill that passed during Miller’s first year in the legislature raised the age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21; Miller notes that the Albany County law predated the state law. The other two laws forbid smoking in county parks and ban the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies.

Miller is currently working on a bill to “protect kids from vaping,” he said.

Miller, 65, has lived in Guilderland all his life, graduating from Guilderland High School before earning a degree in public accounting from the University at Albany. He worked for the state’s Department of Labor for 34 years before retiring.

Miller joined the North Bethlehem Fire Department, which serves parts of Guilderland and Bethlehem, when he was 15 and has been an active member for 50 years. He noted that, last Thursday, he helped fight the fire at the Meadowbrook apartment complex in Bethlehem from 2 in the morning till 3 in the afternoon.

An Eagle Scout, Miller leads Troop 2 in Albany; he notes that he was formerly a scoutmaster for Guilderland’s Troop 24 but the troop’s meeting night was the same as his fire department’s meeting night.

Miller also volunteers at a soup kitchen, for the military service room at the county airport, and as a member of the Albany County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board, he said.

Miller was a sponsor of the recently defeated paid-sick-leave bill and voted in favor of it. “I worked for the state for 34 years and always had paid sick leave,” he said. “I thought it wouldn’t be fair for others not to have it.”

Miller also said he was swayed by people who spoke at the hearing, stating how hard it was for them and their children not to have paid sick leave when they needed it. Also, he noted, people in food-service jobs and other jobs can spread infection by not staying home when they are sick but may feel forced to come to work anyway because they need the pay.

“Before we do it again,” he said of putting up another bill, “it needs some amendments. People won’t change their minds.”

He suggested perhaps “phasing it in, like we did with the Styrofoam bill, starting with the bigger restaurants first.” This would mean first requiring businesses with a lot of employees to provide paid sick leave.

“We need to sit down with the opposition and come up with common ground,” Miller concluded.

On Albany being considered a “nanny county” by some, Miller said, “Some of those things are not easily enforceable.”

But others, he said, are. “The tobacco ban in pharmacies is enforceable,” he said. “I went to stores to be sure it was done. If it weren’t, I would have called the health department, and others would have, too.”

Miller said that it would be harder to enforce the ban on sales of toxic toys because testing would be needed. “We don’t want kids to have poisonous toys,” he said.

Miller went on to say that some of the county measures have since been adopted statewide and are even considered universal. By way of example, he said that, when Albany County first raised the age for purchasing tobacco products, detractors said youth would simply go to other counties to purchase cigarettes. But then, he noted, age 21 became required statewide.

“Right now, we’re trying to ban vaping products,” said Miller. “People have told me it’s the parents’ responsibility, but obviously, that’s not working.”

About suburban poverty, Miller said, “Albany County has a lot of programs already in place.” Pressed for details, he named “food programs to feed the poor, soup kitchens, and rural food pantries.”

Miller also noted that, although not run by the county, school lunch programs sustain children who otherwise might go hungry.

Miller concluded, “In some cases, people don’t want to make themselves known. They’re too proud to say they need help … It’s unfortunate.”

On the opioid crisis, Miller said, “We also have Drug Court at the county and city level … to get people in treatment programs and not incarcerated.”

Miller said he regularly attends the graduation ceremonies for these programs. “My wife makes brownies for them,” he said.

Miller went on, “We got grant funding for Vet Trak, sponsored by the Tri-County Council Vietnam Era Veterans.” This program, he said, provides “mentors for people in legal trouble, with drugs or drinking. It sees them through it.”

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