Dems’ Strong challenges GOP incumbent Amedore

George Amedore

Pat Courtney Strong

For the 46th District of the New York State Senate, Democrat Pat Strong, who runs an energy and environmental consulting company in Kingston, is challenging incumbent George Amedore, a local builder and Republican who lives in Rotterdam.

Amedore served for six years in the State Assembly, leaving it to run in 2012 to represent the newly-drawn 46th District, constructed by the Republican-dominated Senate. The district stretches 140 miles, encompassing all or parts of five counties — all of Greene and Montgomery counties and parts of Albany, Schenectady, and Ulster counties. (The district includes all or part of these Albany County towns: Guilderland, New Scotland, Coeymans, and the Hilltowns of Berne, Knox, Rensselaerville, and Westerlo.)

In 2012, Amedore thought he’d eked out a win against Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk, a sheep farmer from Duanesburg, but, after Amedore was sworn in, a series of court challenges awarded the win to Tkaczyk, by 18 votes.

The Senate majority had hung in the balance and both sides spent enormous funds on their campaigns. But, in the end, Tkaczyk’s victory did not lead to a Democratic majority as four Democrats broke away from the leadership, forming the Independent Democratic Caucus.

In 2014, in a rematch, Amedore won over Tkaczyk with 54 percent of the vote. His victory, along with several other key State Senate races going to the Republicans, gave the GOP the majority in the Senate.

The 46th District was critical again in 2016 as Democrats had hoped, but failed, to win the majority of seats. Amedore beat his Democratic challenger, Sara Niccoli, a sheep farmer from Montgomery County and supervisor of Palatine, with 63 percent of the vote with 132,956 district residents voting.

With the recent Democratic primary, where members of the IDC were ousted, Democrats are again hopeful they will secure a majority in the 2018 election.

According to the New York State Board of Elections, Amedore’s campaign has raised, since the day after the 2016 election, a total of $228,379. Forty-one of the contributions to “George Amedore for Senate” were for amounts larger than $1,000, including donations from Builder’s Kitchen; Curtis Lumber; Martin, Harding & Mazzotti; and the New York State Troopers Political Action Committee.

Strong has raised $78,054 during the same time period. Four of those contributions were for more than $1,000. One was from No Bad Apples PAC; the other three were from individuals, including Peter Buffett, son of Warren Buffett.  

Spending for this campaign is much smaller than in the last three Senate races in the 46th District. During his first race against Tkaczyk, in 2012, Amedore’s campaign raised $937,842, and Tkaczyk’s raised $235,290. Two years later, in their rematch, Amedore raised $1,586,899 to Tkaczyk’s $1,321,849. Finally, in 2016, against Sara Niccoli, Amedore raised $1,168,773 to Niccoli’s $278,035.

Amedore also has the Conservative, Independence, and Reform party lines. Strong has the Working Families and Women’s Equality party lines.

The post pays $79,500 annually and carries a two-year term.

 

Pat Strong

Pat Strong had never considered running before, but says that two factors motivate her to run now. One, she said, is “of course great concern about what’s going on in Washington and the direction the country is headed” over the last 20 months. The other is that, as she reviewed the record of the district’s current senator, she felt it was “out of step.”

For example, she said with regard to Amedore’s record, Republicans introduced a bill to close the loophole that allowed those convicted of domestic violence to possess a firearm. The bill passed, but Amedore voted against it, she said.

The fact that he was “voting to the right of his own party” was, for her, “an indice, an opening to look at the record,” she said, on issues including health care, abortion, and the environment, and she became convinced that the voters should have a choice.

“I saw the voting of someone I do think is out of step with the people of the district,” she said.

Her background as a small-business owner and her knowledge of the workings of state government will bring a different kind of voice to the Senate, Strong said.

She co-founded, in 2009, the Business Alliance of Kingston. The organization’s main annual project is “Made in Kingston,” a showcase of local arts.

Strong has worked with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority for 15 years, she said; she responds to competitive bids that NYSERDA offers. That gives her insight into the workings of that agency, as well as of the New York Power Authority and the state’s Department of State and Department of Environmental Conservation, she said. She has also been active on many campaigns over the years.

Earlier, she spent 15 years as a journalist, working for the Daily Freeman and other papers, and then serving as business editor of the Poughkeepsie Journal. She grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Strong is 63 and married to Lester Strong, with whom she has a blended family of five grown children and one grandchild. Strong recently retired as an executive with AARP, and before that spent years as a news anchor in Boston, Atlanta, and Charlotte.

Strong said that she supports the New York Health Act, “which would get us on the path to single-payer health care.” The bill, which the Assembly passed, has “died at the door of the state Senate,” Strong said. She supports the New York Health Act because, while she thinks that about 95 percent of New Yorkers have health insurance, “We certainly must insure the remaining ones who don’t.” She added that it is equally important to help people with “skyrocketing premiums and ever-increasing pharmaceutical prices.”

She pointed to a “long-awaited” report issued this summer by the RAND (Research ANd Development) Corporation, which, she said, declared the legislation viable and said that it could be done.

She “absolutely” supports the initiative to codify Roe v. Wade, Strong said.

“New York was a beacon among states when it passed its statute in 1970, and the idea that we have to do this now is regrettable but very necessary,” she said. “Our statute is out of date, particularly with respect to the life of the mother, and we must bring it up to date as soon as possible.”

The protections of New York’s current statute, she said, are not as extensive as those of Roe v. Wade.

The problems that arose in Guilderland last year, related to the reduction in the state-set equalization rate, were “multifaceted,” Strong said, but “had to do with the revaluation that had been delayed.”

The bipartisan effort by Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy and Amedore, she said, “put in place some important notification requirements going forward, so that when a situation like this is upcoming and it’s about to hit, certainly there would be more extensive notification of the town council, for example.”

She added, “There’s a number of things that could have happened there, in the Guilderland case, but good improvements have been made from that special legislation.”

Strong has not had a chance to look into whether a statewide approach should be taken, but she “would be very open to that.” This is a recurring issue with small communities, she said, “and clearly reforms are necessary.”

She said, “We absolutely have to close the loophole” that allows individuals to create limited liability companies to bypass campaign-donation limits. “I believe it’s passed the Assembly three times,” she said, adding that it “died at the door of the Senate each time.”

The LLC loophole, she said, “contributes in no small way to the cynicism that some voters feel about our process, because they know it’s fundamentally not fair.”

In addition, she said, the loophole reduces voter turnout. “I believe people are discouraged; they feel that it’s not been a fair playing field, so they step back, and they don’t participate.”

Strong said New York should legalize recreational marijuana, because “to decriminalize it will take the wind out of the sails of the illegal drug dealers, and the tax revenue would be very beneficial to the state.”

She is in favor of supporting and encouraging the hemp market, she said.

“As we’ve seen,” she said, “we have farmers who want to be on the land. They want to be productive in their industry, and the market for dairy has changed so drastically that farmers are stepping away from that industry. So hemp provides an important alternative to that.”

The limited number of growers in the state are “very much looking forward,” she said, “to getting further regulations on the books from the state, so they know how to proceed.”

Hemp growing is in the very early stages of regulation, she said, but “offers a lot of hope, I think, to farmers who are looking for new markets.”

Strong said that the issue of the opioid crisis is multi-pronged and has “so many moving parts.”

At a minimum, she said, “We do need to keep pursuing the lawsuit that is, I think, 20 counties in New York State, at the invitation of a law firm in New York City, going after manufacturers to reduce the flow of fentanyl and other drugs that are causing so much havoc within our communities.”

There are 60 or more counties in New York State, she said, “and we need more of them to participate.”

The insurance industry is in need of restructuring around the opioid crisis, Strong said. The issue “does not lend itself to a 30-day fix, and the young people I know who have succumbed to this disease — because it is a disease — have done so after treatment, when they were placed back in the community, without sufficient support.”

Most insurance policies, she said, offer a 28- or 30-day inpatient program for people wanting to get treatment.

“That’s a temporary situation,” she said. “It’s not enough for many people, because it’s a deep dependence that they need to work their way out of.”

Harm-reduction strategies, such as the use of drugs like naloxone and buprenorphine, are important too, she said.

Strong said she admires the “small but successful” program run by Peter Volkmann, chief of police in Chatham in Columbia County. His department, she said, goes to “extraordinary lengths, with his part-time staff, to get people into treatment right away, when they ask for help.”

She has heard Volkmann present on numerous occasions, she said, quoting him as saying that the best scenario for him is the individual who walks in with no insurance, because he can get them better treatment faster than when he must deal with private insurance companies.

“And that’s very telling,” she said.

Strong pointed to a package of what she called “common-sense gun legislation” that was introduced by the Democrats. “An attempt was made by the Senate Democrats to introduce this package,” she said.

One of the most important bills in the package was, she said, the Red Flag Bill, which would allow for temporary removal of firearms from someone who is deemed to be under duress, due to a domestic-violence situation, mental-health crisis, or the like. “And this common-sense bill could not even get to the floor of the Senate,” she said.

Republicans did introduce a domestic-violence gun-safety bill that did pass. “It’s just that our senator voted the wrong way,” Strong said.

 

George Amedore

Amedore was raised in Rotterdam, the oldest of five boys in an Italian-American family, he says. He has been married for 28 years to Joelle Amedore, and the couple has three grown children, two sons and a daughter.

He grew up around a “hard-working family business” — of home building — in which he too has worked since 1987. He is now president of Amedore Group and vice president of Amedore Homes, work that he continues while serving in the state Senate.

Amedore’s second son is now the third generation to work in the family business, he said.  

Amedore, 49, was elected to the state Assembly in 2007 and served through the end of 2012 when he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in a district that was created by Senate Republicans, losing narrowly to Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk. In 2014, he challenged incumbent Tkaczyk, and won decisively as he did again, in 2015, against Sara Niccoli.

He is running for re-election now, he told The Enterprise, “to continue to build upon the hard work and foundation I tried to lay out in representing the 46th Senate District, in trying to get New York on a different track, a different direction — to make New York more affordable, to make New York the place where you can live and work and retire and have a healthy life.”

Amedore’s voting record shows that he has voted, for example, this year, for prohibiting sanctuary cities and for harsher penalties for bomb threats against community centers.

About whether the state should adopt a single-payer health-care system, Amedore said, “No, it should not adopt a socialist type system, because we can’t afford it.”

Such a system, he said, is estimated to cost about $200 billion to $250 billion. The entire state budget is about $168 billion, and he thinks there is going to be a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

“The question I have is,” Amedore asked, “how are we going to pay for such a program, and who’s going to pay for it?”

He said that the amount of a single-payer system would be “basically twice the whole state budget.” His experience, he said, is that cost estimates are “always on the low side, when, in fact, it’s always much more expensive.”

Regarding codification of Roe v. Wade, Amedore said, “I don’t support the expansion of abortion that would allow abortion to be performed by non-doctors up until the day of birth.”

Questioned on this, Amedore said, “That’s what the whole issue is. That is the governor’s proposal.”

He said abortion rights are already federally protected.

Even if the United States Supreme Court were to reverse Roe V. Wade, Amedore repeated that he does not support the governor’s proposal of expanding abortion that would allow abortions to be performed up to the day of birth and also to be performed by non-doctors.  

Amedore would support a countywide, but not a statewide, approach to setting the equalization rate. A bill sponsored by Amedore in the Senate and Patricia Fahy in the Assembly has since been signed into law; the new law requires the Office of Real Property Tax Services to finalize appeals of equalization rates sooner; requires the use of separate segmented rates for the parts of Guilderland other school districts, until a town-wide revaluation is completed; and requires that taxpayers be given advance notice of major changes in their equalization rates.  

“I think you’ve got to take it on a countywide basis,” Amedore said. “If they took the formula for Westchester County, which is the highest in the entire country, and imposed it here in Albany County or in Schenectady County, or Greene County or Montgomery County or Ulster County, we would definitely have for-sale signs and vacancies in blighted areas because people would have to leave. We can take it on a more countywide approach and look at it and bring an equitable formula,” he continued.

Actually, a statewide standard for assessment would simply mean that all locations were calculating taxes based on the same percentage of assessed value; it wouldn’t have any effect on assessed values themselves.

If a bill to close the LLC loophole came to the floor, he would support it, Amedore said. “If it brings more transparency and if it would take Cuomo’s pay-to-play campaigning out of the equation in New York State and bring a more ethical standard, then we would do it, I would support it, absolutely,” he said. Amedore did vote to advance the bill through committee, a spokeswoman added in an email.

He does not support legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use, because, he said, “Marijuana is a gateway drug.”

He does support medical marijuana, and pointed out that the governor just signed his bill into law the other day, allowing medical marijuana as an alternative drug for pain management, in lieu of addictive opiates.

The policy on medical marijuana is highly regulated, Amedore said, and he would like to see the expansion of dispensaries and see the cost go down, “so that patients who are issued the medical card can afford it.”

He would support the expansion of legal hemp farming. “If it’s a crop and can also be under the strict regulations that we have in New York for medical marijuana, sure.”

The state needs to remove the stigma of addiction, Amedore said, and to continue to fund prevention efforts and educational efforts.

It needs to expand recovery services “that will help the individual going through treatment to enter and continue in recovery, because recovery is a process,” Amedore said.

The state also needs to look at sober-living facilities for people who have gone through treatment. “Some of these facilities are more drug dens than they are sober,” he said.

Finally, the state needs to continue to fund jail-based services in substance-use disorder and mental illness, according to Amedore. “If the state doesn’t address the root causes of crime, which can be addiction, we’re going to have more and more recidivism, and we’re not fixing the problem,” he said.

The change that needs to be made to state gun laws “is they need to repeal the SAFE Act and we need to do things correctly,” Amedore said, adding, “We need to address the issue of mental illness.”

What is needed, he said, is proper background checks, education, and training, said Amedore. “That would go a lot farther in keeping our community safe, rather than the SAFE Act, which made a lot of law-abiding citizens lawbreakers.”

In response to Strong’s criticism of his “nay” vote on the Senate bill that would prevent those convicted of domestic violence from possessing firearms, Amedore said that this was already a federal law, and that the state legislation was “forced through by the governor, with a message of necessity, to use as a political-wedge issue and talking point to advance his national ambitions.”

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