Rematch: Porter challenges Fahy in Assembly District 109

ALBANY COUNTY — Robert G. Porter, who worked in law enforcement for the Marines for 21 years, is making his second run against incumbent Democratic Assemblywoman Patricia A. Fahy to represent the 109th District.

Fahy, who has held the post since 2012, also has the Independence Party line. Porter has the Republican, Libertarian, and Conservative lines.

The differences between the two candidates are stark.

Fahy, for example, is calling for federal aid to help the state with the coronavirus recession and is looking at creative ways to raise more in taxes. Porter says the state should solve its own problems and not call on the federal government for a bail-out; he wants to cut taxes, believing it would inspire growth.

The district, which is heavily Democratic, was reconfigured in 2012 after its longtime representative, Democrat John McEneny, retired; the district covers Bethlehem, Guilderland, New Scotland, and the western part of Albany where both candidates live.

Since the six-way race in the Democratic primary after McEneny retired, Fahy has won all of her races with close to 70 percent of the vote.

District 109, as of Feb. 21, has 49,537 Democrats, 21,346 registered voters not enrolled in any party, 16,072 Republicans, 4, 608 members of the Independence Party, 1,454 Conservatives, and fewer than 1,000 voters enrolled in other small parties.

According to the state’s board of elections, Fahy has so far raised $67,575 for her current campaign; only about a dozen of the contributions to “Friends of Patricia Fahy” are over $1,000. For the 2018 election, she raised $81,608. For the 2016 election, Fahy raised $94,793; in 2014, she raised $70,424; and in 2012, the year she bested five opponents in the Democratic primary, Fahy raised $306,132.

Porter is not in the database and says, “I don’t ask for contributions. I don’t think we should pay politicians to get elected to spend our money. I’m not into taking donations for a campaign.” After an election, he said, lawn signs go into a landfill, which he called “disgusting.”

Two years ago, the late Joseph P. Sullivan was also in the race for District 109, on the Conservative line. Fahy received 71 percent of the vote to Porter’s 24 percent and Sullivan’s 5 percent.

In the two elections before that — in 2014 and again in 2016 — Fahy faced the same challenger: Republican Jesse D. Calhoun, a preschool teacher and musician. Fahy beat Calhoun with about 67 percent of the vote in 2014, and with about 70 percent of the vote in 2016.

Porter had run for office once before challenging Fahy two years ago — losing his Republican bid four years ago to represent the heavily Democratic 9th Ward in Albany.

The Assembly post carries a two-year term.

Both candidates were asked the same set of questions



Patricia A. Fahy

Citing “tumultuous times,” Patricia A. Fahy, who has represented the 109th Assembly District since 2012 says, “I’m as motivated as ever.”

Eight years ago, she ran on the issues of education and jobs. She has added stemming climate change to her top priorities. Despite the current health and economic crises, she told The Enterprise this week, “We cannot forget about climate change. It grows worse by the day.”

Fahy is proud of the passage of environmental bills she has sponsored on plastics and small appliances.

She also said that she works hard to feel the pulse of the community. “I try to use my voice for the voiceless,” said Fahy. “I never forget how humbled and how honored I am to serve.”

Fahy has described herself as a first-generation American whose parents “came to this country for a better life,” where education was key. Fahy has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Northern Illinois University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Before moving to Albany more than two decades ago, Fahy spent many years in Washington, D.C., working on Capitol Hill with labor committees and employment subcommittees, drafting legislation.

In New York State, she had worked as an associate commissioner at the labor department and for the state legislature. She also served on Albany’s school board; her children attended city schools.

On state finances in the time of coronavirus, Fahy said, “There is no doubt we need federal assistance.”

She said the current economic crisis is unprecedented since the Great Depression in the 1930s. As an example, Fahy said that 90 percent of New York City restaurants have been unable to pay their rent, even before the start of cold weather that will stem the outdoor dining that has sustained many restaurants.

“Everybody has to tighten their belts,” said Fahy. Beyond that, she said, “We need more revenue.”

She cited several “creative proposals,” including raising taxes on multi-millionaires, asking those fewer than 1 percent of New York residents “to do more of their fair share.”

Fahy also mentioned more sports betting, legalizing marijuana, and fees as additional income sources.

She said, to reduce climate change, incentives are needed, for example, to encourage people to buy electric cars. But sticks must be used as well as carrots, Fahy said, and the heaviest polluters should be taxed.

Citing the state budget’s current $14 billion deficit, Fahy said, “Everything needs to be on the table.”

On police reform, Fahy said, the killing of George Floyd “broke the political logjam.” She supported the reform package that was passed this summer, including repeal of 50-a, making police records available to the public.

Fahy has a bill related to an “egregious case” in Buffalo where an officer, eight years ago, intervened when another officer was choking someone who was being arrested, said Fahy. The intervening officer was fired and lost her pension although her pension was recently restored, said Fahy.

Fahy’s bill would protect whistleblowers or officers in situations like the officer in Buffalo, Fahy said.

Fahy is proud of a bill that passed two years ago, backing the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, known as LEAD.

Based on a program in Seattle, it allows police officers to divert from arrest three categories of people: homeless people, people with drug issues, and people with mental-health problems.

In Albany, the program partners with Catholic Charities so that social workers are on call to work with police preventing arrest for people who need help. Putting a homeless person in jail for a nonviolent crime doesn’t do any good, said Fahy.

The program needs to be expanded, she said.

While Fahy is a co-sponsor of a bill for single-payer health insurance, she says she expects the bill will “remain stuck.”

She notes that the cost of single-payer health insurance would be “prohibitively expensive.” As the state is facing a massive deficit, now is not the time, said Fahy.

While health insurance absolutely needs “serious and aggressive reform,” said Fahy, it has to be done nationally. “The initial cost is daunting,” she said. “We have to have an ally in the White House,” Fahy said, adding she was pleased it was a topic during the debates among presidential candidates.

“That it is not something New York can do alone,” Fahy concluded.

On fair taxes, Fahy said that, several years ago, residents who live in Guilderland on the outskirts of the town, served by other school districts, were “blindsided” by huge tax hikes as the town’s equalization rate fell.

She worked on several pieces of legislation to ameliorate the situation. One of them requires notification ahead if there is going to be a large change in tax assessments “so local officials aren’t blindsided.”

While Fahy acknowledged it is difficult for the state to deal with 1,000 different jurisdictions, she also said home rule can be important.

A wholesale change to a state assessment system, she said, would require hearings and “a lot more dialogue.” She said, “We’d have to go through the pros and cons.”

While Fahy said, “Everything is on the table,” she also said that this issue is “not at the head of the table,” meaning it is not a priority now. She added, “Unless it would produce serious savings.”

Asked about gun safety, Fahy said on Friday afternoon, “This morning, I received notice from Moms Demand Action that I was given the Candidate of Distinction Award,” which made her very proud, she said.

Fahy said she is a founding member of New York Legislators Against Gun Violence. 

She was in Washington, D.C., Fahy said, when President Ronald Reagan was shot, and she has donated to the Brady fund to prevent gun violence; Jim Brady was disabled during the assasination attempt on Reagan.

As an Assembly member, Fahy sponsored legislation that closed the bump-stock loophole in New York State. It was already illegal to use a bump stock — which makes rapid shooting possible, as was seen in the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas — but it had been legal in New York to buy, sell, or possess bump stocks.

“We have done a lot …,” said Fahy. While there has certainly been an uptick in gun violence under COVID, Fahy said, New York has some of the strongest gun-safety laws in the nation and proportionately is one of the safest states.



Robert G. Porter

Robert G. Porter is making a second run to represent the 109th District because he wants to give voters a choice, he said.

“Twenty-five percent of the voters thought I was a good candidate,” Porter said of his last run. “Those people want something new.”

Porter grew up in Guilderland, attending Farnsworth Middle School and Guilderland High School.

He left high school in 1984 to join the United States Marines Corps, earning his GED along the way. He served in the Marines for 21 years, in law enforcement and as an investigator. He was stationed abroad in Korea; Okinawa, Japan; the Philippines; and did a tour in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, training Iraqi police.

Porter retired in 2007 and is active in several organizations for veterans and motorcycle rights.

In the military police, Porter said, “You solve problems and you make things better for people.” As a Marine, he said, he put his county first. As an assemblyman, Porter said, he would put his constituents first.

Among his priorities are bringing the state’s debt under control, which he said has “skyrocketed” with the coronavirus shutdown. Porter said the Marines are the smallest branch of the United States military and are “austere” in their spending — a model he would follow.

Porter also said, as an assemblyman, he would like to bring people together. “I don’t like seeing the violence we have now. I don’t like seeing the division between people,” he said.

He went on, “When I talk to people, we generally agree on what’s going wrong … It’s the media that’s pushing this,” he said of divisiveness.

With Donald Trump contracting COVID-19, Porter said, “We all should be together when somebody’s ill.”

If he’s elected, Porter said, he hopes people will come to him with their problems and he will find solutions to make New York a more productive state, to create more jobs, and to lower taxes.

When Porter ran in 2018, he was a Republican. He is now enrolled as a member of the Libertarian Party, founded in 1971; New York State has about 14,000 enrolled Libertarians.

“We’re for a small government, less taxes, more individual rights, and against violence,” said Porter of his party. “We don’t like sending our troops to wars to make big business more money.”

On state finances, Porter said the coronavirus has impacted the whole country and the whole world.

“We shouldn’t rely on the rest of the country to bail us out,” he said of New York State. “We should take care of our problems in our state.”

Porter also said that people are leaving New York because of high taxes.

He said by cutting taxes, people would spend more money, fortifying the economy. Also, with lower taxes, he said, people will want to move to New York from other states. 

“We’d get more people,” he said.

Porter called George Floyd’s death tragic — “the tragedy of an individual being supposedly detained by police, resulting in death.”

With his 21 years in law enforcement, Porter said, he knows how to handle difficult individuals. “Police should be given more training on how to control people,” he said. Rather than using physical violence, police should use the minimum force possible, he said, noting there are times when police have to defend themselves.

“I’m not a fan of bail reform,” said Porter, stating that it creates a “revolving door” for suspects, putting them back on the street to commit more crimes.

Porter supports making police discipline records transparent. In every profession, he said, citing records for doctors and lawyers, people should know when they’re dealing with someone who is a “bad apple.”

“People should know who is good and bad in law enforcement,” said Porter. The bad apples, he said, shouldn’t be allowed to remain on a police force.

On single-payer health insurance, Porter said, his own insurance is a single-payer medical program, through the Veterans Administration.

“There’s no incentive for the VA to improve,” he said, citing reports of veterans being refused care with some even dying.

“The solution to the health-care problem,” he said, “is to get rid of insurance paperwork.” Some doctors refuse to accept medical insurance, he said, and provide care less expensively without it.

“Get rid of the bureaucracy and you’ll have great health care,” Porter said.

On fair taxes, Porter said, “Everybody hates property taxes.”

He thinks the current system is inherently unfair because someone who improves his or her property is taxed more while neighbors who let their property fall into disrepair are taxed less.

“They’re not being held accountable,” Porter said of property owners who create eyesores. “The people making the mistakes should be paying more.”

Porter believes those who are improving their properties, making improvements that raise values for the entire neighborhood, are being punished with higher taxes.

A statewide assessment system wouldn’t work, Porter said, because properties have very different values in an urban setting like New York City than they do in a rural setting like Westerlo. However, he said that a statewide standard would be useful.

On gun safety, Porter said, “New York has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation.” He pointed to crime involving firearms in New York City and said, “The criminals break the law.”

Passing more restrictive laws for honest citizens won’t stop criminals, Porter said. “We have to have tougher laws for criminals.”

Porter described a college class he was taking soon after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in which the professor was given safety instructions. He said the professor turned to Porter, asking him to bring a firearm to class.

“I would be thrown in jail like any criminal,” said Porter, since the law wouldn’t allow him to do that.

People want protection in schools, Porter said, and should be able to defend themselves and to keep children safe.




State issues for 2020

Candidates for New York State’s Assembly and Senate were asked about relevant background, their reasons for running, and what they hope to achieve if elected. They were also asked to give their views on each of these issues:

— Finances in the time of coronavirus: Since the federal government has yet to agree on a bailout for state and local government, such as that proposed by the House of Representatives HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act in May, Governor Andrew Cuomo has said 20 percent of state aid will need to be withheld from schools and local governments. This is at a time when sales and other tax revenues have plummeted and also when county governments and schools have added expenses. Some have proposed more taxes on the wealthy but the governor has countered this would put New York State at a disadvantage since the wealthy would go to other states and taxes are already high in New York. What course should the legislature take?

— Police reform: Before the protests following the death of George Floyd, New York State adopted bail reform and expanded criminal discovery such that police departments within 15 days of an arrest have to provide statements, reports, and videos to the defense. After the protests, New York quickly adopted a number of reforms, including allowing police discipline records to be made public. Also, the governor is requiring police departments across the state to reform and reinvent themselves through a public process in each community. Which police reforms do you support, which do you object to, and why? Are there other measures you would take?

— Single-payer health insurance: This would be a system financed by taxes that covers the costs of essential health care for all New Yorkers with costs borne by taxpayers. Medicare is a federal single-payer health- care system but just for people over 65. Should New York adopt such a system? If so, why? If not, what system should the state use and why?

— Fair taxes: The state’s Office of Real Property Tax Service has to deal with 1,000 jurisdictions, each setting their own assessment standard and so relies on sampling and trends, which can often go awry. Towns like Westerlo, which has not revalued properties for decades so the state-set equalization rate for the town is less than 1 percent of full-market value, leave newcomers with an unfair tax burden. Also there is no enforcement mechanism to make towns with badly skewed assessment rolls comply. Should New York follow the lead of most states and have a single assessment standard? Why or why not?

— Gun safety: The Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act was hurriedly passed in 2013 after the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. The SAFE Act bans private citizens from owning assault weapons unless they were owned before the act. State law requires a permit for pistol ownership but does not require a license to own long guns. What changes, if any, should be made to New York’s gun laws? 

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