Fight for the 46th: Niccoli challenges Amedore

Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Ready to debate: Senator George Amedore, a Republican, takes notes as his challenger, Democrat Sara Niccoli, pins a shared microphone on her lapel Tuesday night. Each wants to represent the critical 46th District. Niccoli also has the Working Families and Women’s Equality lines while Amedore is backed by the Conservative, Green, Independence, and Reform parties.

GUILDERLAND — Differences came into sharp relief Tuesday night as the two candidates for the 46th State Senate District — incumbent Republican George Amedore is being challenged by Democrat Sara Niccoli — spoke before a crowd of over 200 at the Guilderland Public Library.

In her closing comments, Niccoli drew parallels between Amedore and the Republican candidate for president.

“He blocks the Reproductive Health Act…He denies that humans have anything to do with climate change,” said Niccoli. Likening Amedore’s approach to that of Donald Trump, she said: “Invest in the wealthy and let the working class and middle class duke it out.”

Her comments were greeted with a low rumble and then boos from the crowd. The booing was answered by applause and cheers from others in the packed hall.

The moderator from the League of Women Voters, Marggie Skinner, said after the two-hour session, “I’m glad the audience was balanced.”

Throughout the debate, as Skinner read questions submitted by the onlookers, answered by each candidate in turn, she tried to quiet the crowd, which would nevertheless burst forth when so moved.

Amedore said, when The Enterprise asked if he supported Trump “I denounced his comments; they are disgusting. I will not vote for Hillary Clinton…I will be supportive of the Republican nominee.”

Amedore, who lives in Rotterdam, described himself as a businessman who employs 30 people — in a home-construction business, Amedore Homes — which he said made him aware of the “real world” and its problems, contrasting this to “political hacks.”

“I understand the frustration,” he said. “New York is heavy on our backs and deep in our pockets.”

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 parts of five counties — Albany, Greene, Montgomery, Schenectady, and Ulster. (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.

Two years ago, in a rematch, Amedore’s win over Tkaczyk, with 54 percent of the vote, along with several other key State Senate races going to Republicans gave the GOP the majority in the Senate. The 46th District is critical again this year as the Democrats hope to win the majority of seats.

Several times during Tuesday’s debate, Niccoli said that the 46th District was gerrymandered to get Amedore elected. Niccoli, who with her husband owns and runs a sheep farm in Montgomery County, is the supervisor of the town of Palatine. She had worked as director of the Labor-Religion Coalition.

“We fought hard for and finally won a minimum-wage deal and paid family leave,” she had told members of the McKownville Improvement Association who gathered last Thursday. “The vast majority of New Yorkers support this and yet we couldn’t get it done; it was like pulling teeth. This is why I decided to run.”

 

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Every seat is filled and spectators line the walls and stand out in the hallway as over 200 people listen — and sometimes clap, boo, or cheer — to the candidates’ debate at the Guilderland Public Library Tuesday night.

 

At that same McKownville gathering last week, Niccoli was challenged on why she doesn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

She answered, “Six generations ago, my family came to the United States to escape religious persecution. We’re Quakers…Quakers do not pledge…We’re not willing to put our country before our God.”

She went on to say that, at Palatine board meetings, she stands and puts her hand over her heart as she asks her deputy supervisor to say the words of the Pledge of Allegiance. “I believe every word,” she said.

Amedore told the crowd on Tuesday that he had kept the campaign promises he made two years ago. “We all love New York; we just can’t afford New York,” he said, reiterating the very words he had spoken giving his victory speech in a banquet hall at the River Stone Manor in Glenville.

In that speech, Amedore listed things that he said needed fixing, such as high property taxes, energy costs, lack of jobs, and an educational system that is “leaving children behind.”

He cited at the time a poll that found upstate residents believe the state’s best days “are behind us,” and said to applause, “I believe our best days are just ahead of us. He went on, “I know what needs to be done,” and listed real property tax reform, eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment, and vocational education at young grades.

Tuesday night, Amedore told the crowd that the Gap Elimination Adjustment — which drew promised state funds from schools to cover state budget gaps — was eliminated last year. “I helped deliver more school aid,” he said.

Issues

“We’re sick and tired of the cesspool of corruption in Albany,” Amedore said when asked about ethics. He advocated pension forfeiture for convicted elected officials and said he would work hard for term limits and more transparency.

While Niccoli also favors pension forfeiture, she said, “We have a huge systemic problem.” Legislators, she said, are not serving the people. She said Amedore’s first job is his real-estate business and also said he had a handful of major supporters with an average campaign contribution of $9,500 while she had 2,500 contributors with an average of $15 each.

On funding for public schools, Niccoli said her daughter’s rural school district was “gutted” and she would fight to get the $3.9 billion owed to public schools by the state. “We’re selling out the next generation,” she said, stressing schools shouldn’t be funded through property taxes but rather by the state.

Amedore agreed, “It’s time we take it off the backs of property owners.” He also said, “We need a simple system that is fair and equitable.”

On the environment, Niccoli said, “time is running out” on what she called the “defining issue of the century.” She advocated for renewable infrastructure that would put people to work, improving resiliency, and opposing bad projects that will destroy national resources.

She also said Amedore was silent on the Pilgrim Pipeline, on oil trains, and on anchoring oil barges in the Hudson River. “We need a senator who will really stand strong against these,” she said.

Amedore responded that he was on the record “being against these pipelines.” He also pointed to funding for the Catskill Park coalition, which he said could be an “incubator of economic opportunity.”

On climate change, Amedore said, “No question we’ve had strange weather patterns.” He mentioned floods, hurricanes, and unusual temperatures before saying, “Is it manmade or another cycle of life?...We don’t know.” The crowd rumbled.

“We are God’s stewards of this good Earth,” Amedore said, noting the state’s investment in solar projects.

“It’s incredibly, incredibly dangerous to have a New York State senator that doesn’t believe people are creating climate change,” said Niccoli, citing scientific evidence. “We need to address the environmental crisis head-on.” She said that means investing in renewable energy and reducing fossil fuels.

On the SAFE (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) Act, passed in 2013, Amedore said to loud applause, “The only solution to the SAFE Act is a 100-percent repeal.” He cited the attorney general’s announcement earlier in the day of an analysis that showed 74 percent of all crime guns recovered by police originated out of state.

“Unlike George Amedore, I live a life that requires firearms as a tool,” said Niccoli, such as for defending livestock against predators. She said she is “a supporter of the Second Amendment,” and was “absolutely opposed to the way the SAFE Act was passed without due process or public input.”

Niccoli supports background checks, and increased penalties for people who use guns to hurt on-duty officers.

“We need to have people who use guns and people impacted by gun violence have civil discourse,” she said.

On the heroin epidemic, Niccoli said the faltering economy and “incredible hopelessness” need to be addressed as root causes. She also said, “We really need to invest in treatment and prevention.”

“We are sick and tired of hearing and reading obituaries of young people,” said Amedore, also citing the jails filled with addicts and social service workers being “overwhelmed by the workload.”

He referenced his work as chairman of the Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse and went over the state’s four-pronged approach, which he said put New York on the forefront. This includes prevention, treatment, closing insurance gaps, and enforcement.

“We’re going to beat this epidemic in this state,” Amedore said.

Asked about the “right to choose,” Amedore said, “I’m a person of faith. I believe in life. I’m pro-life.”

Amedore did not support the 10th point of the governor’s original Women’s Equality Agenda, which would have codified Roe v. Wade into state law; that point was broken out from the agenda.

“I am a person of faith,” said Niccoli. “I believe in the dignity of women. Every woman should have the right to make her own choices about her body,” Niccoli said to applause.

She also said it was unfair to have insurance cover Viagra but not contraception.

“I will fight to trust women…and lift up their dignity,” she said to cheers.

On safe water, Niccoli linked her answer to the property-tax issue. With so many unfunded mandates, she said, municipalities can’t afford to keep up their aging infrastructure. “People are literally being poisoned,” she said, advocating for the state to pay for infrastructure projects.

“We need clean water,” said Amedore, stating he had supported a $200 million increase in water cleanup, and supported testing for lead in public-school water. He noted the school lead cleanup would be funded by the state.

On the educational tax credit, Amedore said he voted for it because he believes “a parent should have a choice on where to send their child to school.”

The proposal would give a tax credit to those paying private-school tuition.

Niccoli said she is “absolutely opposed” to the measure, calling it “a creep toward the privatization of our schools.” She said the lobby for the tax credit is coming from New York City and would not help “kids in rural and small-city districts.”

“Why on earth would we be giving wealthy people a break?” she asked.

Asked about the 40,000 people on parole, most of them African-American or Latino, who can’t vote, Niccoli said, “My approach to voting rights is, more is better.”

“Whether there’s 40,000 or one,” said Amedore, “we have a set of laws…it is a right to vote.”

That right is withheld from someone who broke the law, he said. “I’m not one to open the floodgates to illegal elections,” he said to applause.

Both candidates support extending the statute of limitations for victims of sex abuse. Both also agreed that the city of Albany, being the seat of state government, has an unfair tax burden with so many state buildings being exempt from property taxes, and should be compensated.

Neither favored holding a constitutional convention. Niccoli asked, if Albany politicians couldn’t be trusted, “Why would we trust them to mess with our constitution?” And Amedore pointed out that constitutional amendments could be made without a convention.

Asked about closing the “LLC loophole,” which allows individuals to get around a cap on campaign contributions by forming a Limited Liability Corporation, Amedore said, “The Citizens United court case was decided by the Supreme Court, the highest court of the land…The law is the law.”

This decision allowed corporations to spend money on “electioneering communications” and to advocate for the defeat or election of candidates. Most of the hundreds of millions of dollars this ruling unleashed — largely from a small number of billionaires — has come through super PACs, or political action committees.

Niccoli said of Amedore, “This is something he has certainly enjoyed and taken advantage of.”

On limiting legislators’ outside income, Niccoli said conflicts of interest couldn’t be avoided if a legislator was paid for other work. “Nothing in your job as state senator doesn’t apply,” she said. “If your job is real estate…how can you make the best decision for your community and not your own pocket?”

“To limit outside income is the worst thing we can do,” said Amedore. He said his outside work allows him to “understand what constituents feel.”

Amedore said to applause, “The last thing we need is more political hacks…We need more people with real-world experience.”

In his concluding remarks, Amedore said, “I deliver for the residents of the 46th District. There is much more work to be done.”

More Regional News

  • Despite the funding shortfall, New York State was legally compelled to fully reopen its application portal last week following a court injunction.

  • The New York Coalition for Open Government, a not-for-profit advocate for government transparency, says it filed two Freedom of Information Law requests with the Albany County Board of Elections for meeting minutes last summer, but the board never acknowledged either.

  • New York State has released its first annual greenhouse gas emissions report, and it paints a dire image. While emissions are down somewhat from 1990, the report shows the state has a long way to go to achieve the goals it laid out in its Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act by the self-set deadline of 2050.

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