In Dem primary, Plotsky challenges Duncan

— Map from the Albany county Legislature website

The 38th district covers the bulk of New Scotland, minus the northeast corner with the village of Voorheesville. It also reaches into Bethlehem, in the Feura Bush area.

In the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, Victoria Plotsky, a lawyer running for reform, is challenging Darrell Duncan, the former county commissioner of public works, to represent parts of New Scotland and Bethlehem in the Albany County Legislature.

They both live in New Scotland and they both are Democrats.

Duncan was appointed to represent the 38th District in January by a 30-to-3 vote in the Democrat-dominated legislature. He had stepped down from his post, which he held for five years, as the county’s commissioner of public works.

The 38th District seat had been vacated by Michael Mackey who became a Supreme Court justice in the state’s Third Judicial District. The district covers the bulk of New Scotland, minus the northeast corner with the village of Voorheesville. It also reaches into Bethlehem, in the Feura Bush area.

Tuesday’s primary is the only one for the legislature, because of the vacancy.

Duncan, who is 59,  has lived in New Scotland his whole life and worked for the town for 20 years. He was formerly New Scotland’s highway superintendent. He currently works in construction at Carver.

When he first became a legislator in January, Duncan told The Enterprise he was interested in projects like the Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail and in public works, and suggested that the town could maintain a relationship with the county through shared services.

Plotsky, a lawyer with the Workers’ Compensation Board, supervises attorneys across the state and has helped draft legislation, she said.

“I’m running because I can…I can try to make a difference, to take care of our rights at a local level,” Plotsky said.

Plotsky, who is 50, grew up in Massachusetts, and graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in Soviet studies. She then worked for the British embassy in Moscow before earning her degree from Albany Law School in 1995.

She and her husband, Bruce Plotsky, moved from Delmar to Clarksville 10 years ago. They enjoy hiking and biking and were married at Thacher Park. He has had Parkinson’s disease for 19 years and she is active in support groups and fundraising for Parkinson’s.

The issues

The Enterprise asked the candidates their opinions on these issues:

Nepotism: Earlier this year, the county voted down a bill that would have restricted county office-holders from appointing their relatives to non-Civil Service county jobs. Republican legislators have since proposed amending the Albany County charter to implement an anti-nepotism policy.

Shared services: A state-required shared-services plan is currently before the county legislature for comments. A final vote by the county executive’s panel that developed the draft is due by Sept. 15. Among other initiatives, the draft calls for consolidating the Berne Highway Department with the Albany County Department of Public Works.

Environment: In March, the county legislature voted down a proposed expansion of its polystyrene ban. The 2013 law applies only to chain restaurants that have more than 15 locations. Advocates say biodegradable alternatives can be used.

After the state legislature passed a law to block New York City’s law to charge fees for one-time-use thin plastic bags, the governor created a task force to look at the best way to manage the bags. Currently, the New York State Association of Counties is gathering feedback from counties across the state on the issue.

— Suburban poverty: While urban and rural poverty are often well known, suburban poverty can be hidden. In the Guilderland public schools, for example, 15 percent of students come from poverty, up from 5 percent a decade ago. Because of the spread-out nature of suburbia, often without public transportation, it is difficult for poor suburbanites to access city-centered services. What is being or should be done in Albany County to help the suburban poor?

— Heroin: The heroin epidemic continues to take lives and increase crime.What should the county do to stem the epidemic and to prevent addicts’ recidivism?

Plotsky responds

Plotsky said her two major goals in running are reform and caring for the environment.

She notes an independent commission recommended reducing the size of the county legislature and she believes some legislators are against it because they would lose their jobs.

She also said, “We need an independent redistricting committee.”

On nepotism, Plotsky said, “Why have nepotism? What’s the benefit? It creates bad feelings in the workplace. There is no reason for it.”

On shared services, she said that consolidation of the Berne Highway Department and the Albany County Department of Public Works “is good in concept but I share concerns they won’t get the quick response with the DPW…There would be adjustment pains.”

She said she will consider the plan further but concluded, “Unless I have full confidence local needs would be met, I would not be in favor of it.”

On polystyrene, she noted, “It does not biodegrade. It releases carcinogens.” While she said she could understand concerns about costs, she concluded, “We shouldn’t use it. Period.”

On what the county should recommend to the state on one-time-use plastic bags, Plotsky said, “I saw something about Kenya banning plastic bags. If they can pull together and do that, we can, too.”

She also pointed out the bags are bad for wildlife and oceans. “There are islands in the middle of nowhere covered with our garbage…It’s not a left-leaning liberal idea,” she said of banning the bags. “This is about survival.”

On helping the suburban poor, Plotsky said, ”One thing would be to improve transportation networks.” She also noted the work of church and charitable groups.

Plotsky was a member of the Delmar Rotary Club for 10 years, serving as its president, and helped with school backpacks and supplies, she said. She also said the Bethlehem Community Fund hears from schools and senior services about individual needs and “quietly goes about helping where it’s needed.”

On stemming the heroin epidemic, Plotsky said, “Preventing recidivism is hard.”

She also said, “There’s not enough funding for mental-health counseling and substance-abuses services.”

Plotsky suggested “a mentor program could help people change their lives and keep them from falling back into addiction.

Duncan responds

Duncan voted against the bill that would have restricted county office-holders from appointing their relatives to non-Civil Service county jobs. “As legislators, we don’t hire anyone; it doesn’t affect us,” he said.

He said further that the proposed law could be needlessly limiting. “If I had a grandson 20 years from now, he couldn’t be hired,” said Duncan. “If I was elected, I wouldn’t hire anyone right away but there are certain jobs you could as long as they’re qualified.”

He concluded, “You shouldn’t have an unqualified employee in a job just because he’s a relative. But, if a relative is more qualified than other people, yes, he should be hired,” said Duncan.

On shared services, Duncan said, “I went to the last shared-services meeting. I think they’re on to a couple of things. … Berne shouldn’t be solely involved. It should include Berne, Knox, Rensselaerville, Westerlo — you should look at it as a whole program. You should look at them all equally.”

Duncan said health insurance and benefits would be most cost effective if “shared among larger groups.”

“That’s the goal,” he said, using his own situation as an example. “I worked for the village, the town, and the county … I’m in the state retirement system for all three. Similar to an insurance plan, you get more when you have a bigger consortium of people.”

Duncan voted against a proposed expansion of the county’s current polystyrene ban. He said that such a ban, to work well, should be implemented statewide, not at the county level.

“It should involve more than certain businesses,” he said. “Let’s make it for everyone.”

He concluded on protecting the environment, “We need mandates from the state, not just nitpicking.”

On suburban poverty, Duncan said, “Municipalities are trying to reach out. Some of these people don’t want to be sought out and that’s a shame. Some people have lived this way their whole life and don’t realize they need help.”

He concluded, “It’s up to us to try to reach out.”

On the heroin epidemic, Duncan said, “I wish I could help with that. I’ve never smoked cigarettes or tried drugs. I don’t understand it.”

He went on, “I know it’s a severe problem ... It’s an outrageous thing happening now. People have lost their children. Anything we can do to coordinate with the sheriff, we should do.”

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