Porter v. Perlee

 

ALBANY COUNTY — The 31st District for the Albany County Legislature was redrawn before the election eight years ago and now covers parts of three towns: rural western Guilderland, including the village of Altamont and the hamlet of Guilderland Center; about two-thirds of Knox; and the northeast corner of Berne.

In an upset victory in 2011, Knox Republican Travis Stevens, running on a platform of reduced spending, edged out Democrat William Aylward who had long represented Altamont and formerly been a Guilderland supervisor.

Stevens survived a challenge four years ago from Knox Democrat Nicholas Viscio, a long-time member of the Knox Town Board. Stevens, who prided himself in being a listener, is not seeking re-election.

This November, two Altamont residents are vying to represent District 31: Republican Jeff Perlee and Democrat Fran Porter.

Each of the candidates answered a series of issues-based questions outlined on the cover of this edition as well as talking about their goals, backgrounds, and reasons for running. Each also discussed their views on the issues in a video that you can watch at altamontenterprise.com.

 

Jeff Perlee

Jeff Perlee has roots both in the Helderbergs — his family goes back eight generations there, he said — and in Altamont, where he lives.

“I’m deeply rooted in the area and have a great love of the Helderbergs,” he said.

He also said, “This area is very different than other parts of the county … It deserves unique representation.”

Perlee said he became very familiar with Albany County government over the last 10 years as a foster parent. He has adopted three children and has a fourth placement.

Perlee plans to offer “a voice and a vote to influence policy” to preserve what is “very near and dear to my heart” — preserving and enhancing the look and feel of the Helderbergs.

He named the three elements he would pursue to do this: recreation and tourism, supporting local businesses, and planning and development.

“What really defines us is the physical features,” he said. Yet, he said, the county has done nothing to  provide infrastructure or programs to encourage recreation or tourism in the 31st District.

“Local business is always on the brink,” Perlee went on. He said he knows firsthand how hard it is to keep a local business alive and running. The former director of the New York State Lottery, Perlee is now president of Lottery Rewards Holdings, where lottery players can enter their ticket numbers a second time around.

“We have too many people in the legislature who come only from government,” Perlee said, stating that many legislators think of business merely as “something they can tax.”

He went on, “If we have vacant storefronts, we really don’t have a community per se. It’s important for local businesses to be supported and not preyed on.”

On planning and development, Perlee said, “I’m a zoning lawyer by background … I led the fight to prevent the federal government from moving the post office out of Altamont. It would have gutted the village.”

Perlee also chaired the Maple and Main Task Force, which guided the state’s road project on Altamont’s main thoroughfares. “We came up with ideas for Victorian lighting and benches … Altamont got much more than we were originally intended,” said Perlee, noting he worked closely with Ken Runion, a Democrat.

Currently, Perlee said, he is very concerned about a proposal for a commercial solar installation on Dunnsville Road near Altamont Orchards. He said he helped prevent a commercial solar array from being built in a historic part of Altamont near the Peter Young Center.

Perlee said he is a Republican because he grew up in the party. He’s stayed a Republican, he said, because he looks to “individual initiative before government initiative.”

However, Perlee said he is troubled by “the extent partisanship pervades local discussion.” He said “Washington nonsense” is infecting local communities. “That kind of strict, almost radical adherence to ideology is detrimental,” Perlee said.

Rather, he said, people of all parties need to work together for the betterment of the community.

Asked about his goals, if elected, Perlee said he would like to see proactive efforts by the county to recruit foster parents. “It’s a crisis,” he said, with opioid addiction leaving many children without functioning families.

While he said the staff at the county’s Department for Children, Youth and Families is “very dedicated,” he also said, “They need more help, more resources.”

Using his own journey as an example, Perlee said, his marriage broke up when he was in his early 40s and he knew he still wanted to be a father.

A member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Altamont, Perlee started looking at adoption through Lutheran Social Services. He said he spent six or seven years and tens of thousands of dollars trying to adopt a child from abroad — first from the Ukraine and then from Vietnam.

“The process was excruciating,” he said, as both programs were shut down before he could adopt. “I was at wit’s end. Only then did I learn about foster care … That should have been an initial option. It’s not well publicized,” he said, concluding, “It’s been the best and greatest thing I’ve ever done.”

On shelter for the homeless, Perlee said he “absolutely” supports Sheriff Craig Apple’s  plan to house people who need homes in a vacant portion of the county jail. He termed it a “creative, proactive solution.

“That’s a good start,” he said.

Perlee does not think the county should bear the burden of paying for emergency medical services for municipalities.

“I think it’s just passing the buck,” he said. “It doesn’t make it less expensive for the taxpayer.”

He also said it would be “getting away from the granular level.” For example, if a town is paying for the service, it could insist on quick response time.

While the county executive’s proposal to legislate straws and stirrers made of compostable materials rather than plastic, like other green initiatives “are all worthy goals,” Perlee said, “they miss the point.”

Such directives can hurt small businesses, he said. In the Hilltowns, he said, “We have far greater threats.”

He went on, “Certainly, you and I would support anything pro-environmental and green” but downtown Albany is missing the issues needed to support businesses.

Similarly, Perlee said, he would not support a county law requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave.

He called such an initiative “overreaching” and “intrusive” and concluded, “The burden that would impose on a small business far outweighs the benefit.”

Perlee said, as vice chairman of the Guilderland Food Pantry that he is very familiar with suburban poverty.

“Food insecurity is a hidden problem in suburbia,” he said, noting it is here in what many people think of as an affluent area.

When the Guilderland Food Pantry moved, after years at the Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church, which was not accessible to people with handicaps, Perlee said, “The data was not extensive.”

Based on board members’ knowledge of Guilderland, the pantry was moved to a church further east on Route 155 to be closer to the center of town, he said. The pantry was helped, in part, in its transition by a county grant secured by Republican Guilderland legislator Mark Grimm, Perlee said.

Perlee also said that transportation is an issue. A member of his extended family, who wants to continue living in Guilderland, he said, is handicapped so is completely dependent on walking where he needs to go or taking public transportation.

On opioids, Perlees said, the children he has adopted ‘are direct victims” of the crisis. “I know first-hand the ravages and destruction,” he said.

He also said, “I don’t think we should take our eye off the ball relative to the sanction side.”

As the parent of a 14-year-old, Perlee said, it is hard to explain the mixed messages currently being sent.

“Yes, it is a disease,” Perlee said of opioid addiction, “but it is also a choice.”

He concluded, “we have to be hitting on all fronts.”

 

Fran Porter

Democrat Fran Porter is making her first run for elective office. She said that, in the last eight months, she’s learned a lot about District 31.

She took a tour on a tractor of a Hilltown farm and talked to an agricultural district board member that explained how farms keep green spaces. She talked with current county legislators in other districts with thoughts of building coalitions with places that aren’t city-centered.

Common issues that such coalitions could work on, Porter said, include environmental protection, keeping water in private wells safe, and providing public transportation and needed medical  services.

“These are good people,” she said of Hilltown residents who, when the Berne doctor’s office abruptly closed this summer, rallied behind a nurse practitioner so that a new practice will soon open.

“It’s kind of baked into the DNA in the Hilltowns, going back to the Anti-Rent Wars,” Porter said, describing Hilltown residents as “people who have spirit and work cooperatively together.”

Of the village of Altamont, where she lives, Porter cited the recent first Founders Day and the ice cream socials among other events that build community.

“What a privilege it would be to represent a district like this,” said Porter.

She also said, “This is a time every single person needs to come forward … Whatever gifts we have, whatever experience we have, we need to bring it to the table and do the best we can.”

With a 30-year career in state government, Porter has had experience working for the state’s labor and health departments and became director of the program that provides food for pregnant women, infants, and children (WIC).

Porter stressed, “I’m not running against the county legislature in any way.” She praised the legislature for “pretty impressive accomplishments,” tackling things beyond county staples to look after the “health, welfare, and prosperity of the community.”

At 70, Porter has lived in Altamont for over 30 years. She grew up in a large family in a small community in Iowa. Although the community, Atlantic, was mostly Republican, her family were Democrats.

Porter described Sunday dinners at her grandparents’ home where she would sit on a favorite uncle’s lap — he was also a town supervisor — and listen to stories about “what was needed, what could be done.”

While the other kids were licking the ice-cream beaters, “I was just enthralled,” she said.

Porter was also inspired by one of her aunts, a nun living in the most Republican district in Iowa, she said, who ran for the state senate. Despite having little time, few resources, and the “impossibility” of being a woman, a nun, and a Democrat, her aunt sill garnered 40 percent of the vote, said Porter.

Although “interest in Democratic politics is baked in my DNA,” Porter said, “this campaign, I’ve thought about things differently.”

Current contentiousness shouldn’t be ignored, Porter said. “People have lost faith with our major political parties,” she said.

So, in addition to running on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines, Porter said, “I went after the Fair Share, an independent nominating body. Our district has close to even numbers of Republicans, Democrats, and unaffiliated voters. Fair Share gives people the option of weighing in, who simply believe as a community we have needs that have to be met.”

Porter said she got “well over 200 signatuures” on a petition to get the Fair Share designation, which appears in small print on the ballot in the box for the Working Families Party.

On homeless people, Porter said, “The fact is homelessmess exists in our district.” She noted it is “somewhat invisible” as “you don’t see people camped along the highway.”

She also said, “It’s something that can be remedied.”

Porter supports the sheriff’s plan for housing the homeless in an unused portion of the jail — calling it “an absolutely innovative solution” — and said she toured the facility. She noted that homelessness is a factor in incarceration and that programs in job counseling, addiction treatment, and dealing with mental-health issues could all be dealt with.

Money is already being spent on homelessness, she said, for low-cost hotels overnight, for example,   and people may come back to the jail just to have a warm place to spend the night.

“It’s not only a matter of compassion … it’s also a matter of saving money,” said Porter, suggesting the sheriff’s plan as a model for the entire country.

The county does have a role in emergency medical services, which are essential, said Porter. “The county should definitely help out,” said Porter. “It’s something we should all invest in.”

On environmental issues, Porter said, “The community and individuals, all of us, need to do as much as we can to eliminate waste.” She also said that the market for recyclable products needs to be increased.

As for eliminating plastic stirrers and straws, Porter said, “It may seem like a small step but it is a step.”

She went on to say that there are fiscal benefits from having a green economy.

Porter also noted there are health implications for using polystyrene since it has chemicals that can be absorbed into foods. She cited one local restaurant owner who spoke during the legislature’s public hearing on the bill who took a lot of pride in serving healthy food; the restaurant owner asked why on earth would she want to put that healthy food into a container that didn’t promote health.

Porter brought up Community Choice Aggregation, which allows local governments to procure power on behalf of their residents, using residents’ collective buying power to drive down costs while allowing the municipalities to choose the source of the electricity generation. She hopes that the source chosen for local CCA efforts will be from sustainable energy.

Porter went on to praise the county for designating itself a pollinator-friendly community, meaning, for example, roadside plants will be chosen that encourage pollinators.

“Twenty-five percent of our food supply comes from pollinators,” said Porter.

She said, too, that it was exciting the first all-electric bus had been rolled out, and that the county could provide solar incentives as well as putting in charging stations for electric vehicles.

“It’s not all about straws. It’s about the idea we have to take steps, concrete steps for our children and for our grandchildren,” said Porter, who is both a mother and a grandmother.

Porter commented on paid sick leave from her experience at both the state labor and health departments. Citing paid-sick-leave policies in New York City and Westchester County, she said the policies had worked well, not causing major difficulties with small or large employers.

Significantly, there were cut-outs for companies with fewer than six workers; those small companies don’t have to pay workers for sick time but could not fire workers for calling in sick, she said.

Also, Porter said, people had to work a certain number of hours to be eligible.

“From the standpoint of a mother,” said Porter, “it’s a bad thing to send your child to school sick.” If a mother is at work, the school nurse is still going to call if, for example, the child is vomiting, said Porter.

Further, Porter said, it is not good for public health to have sick food-service workers or even office workers infecting colleagues.

Presenteeism — people who are sick being present at work — has problems, too, said Porter, as they work less, and make more mistakes, causing more accidents.

“There’s a cost to people showing up when they ought not to,” said Porter, concluding, “We want all employers to thrive.”

Porter noted there is not a large suburban population in District 31 but said some of the effects of poverty are eased with a robust school lunch program.

“I think poverty is a serious problem in more rural areas,” she said. The solution comes down to helping people to get jobs, being compassionate, and offering services, she said.

Porter said she had directed a nutrition program for the elderly, which was instrumental in giving them a good quality of life. Volunteers brought in meals, which kept the elderly in their community, eating well.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Porter had worked in the federal Head Start program for pre-kindergartners, which she said was an excellent way to help families become linked with essential services.

“I believe very strongly in the power of good government to help people,” said Porter. She supports investing in job training, transportation, school lunches, and after-school programs.

“When we help people in poverty, we help everyone,” she said, stating that for every dollar invested in job training, two dollars is realized back in the economy.

On the opioid crisis, Porter said, “Prevention is an important part.”

She went on, “We need to think about creative solutions … Clearly, we have people who are chronic pain sufferers.”

Porter noted that treatment for addiction can be “extremely expensive.” She  said, “We have to invest a lot more money in rehabilitation.”

Porter said this would result in savings for criminal prosecution, recidivism, and incarceration.

She recommended looking at root causes. “We get so many drugs in the mail from other countries,” Porter said, focusing on China.

There is no quality control for mail-order drugs, she said, which can result in drugs laced with deadly substance like fentanyl.

Porter concluded by recommending a focus on solutions rather than punishment.

More Regional News

  • “This is an opportunity in this post-pandemic world to let people know, get the skills, go into apprenticeship programs, get trained,” said Governor Kathy Hochul, speaking from the county’s airport on Monday enroute to the White House for the signing of the infrastructure bill. “There’s jobs waiting for you to help rebuild this great state after we were knocked down so far.”

  • The rubric of vaccination rates being lower in rural areas holds in Albany County as well, according to the state’s tracker, reported by ZIP code.

    As of Tuesday night, for people getting at least one shot, Coeymans Hollow has a rate of 47.5 percent; South Bethlehem, 58.1 percent; and Medusa, 68.3 percent. Clarksville and Berne were in the seventies while Preston Hollow and Westerlo were in the eighties.

    Meanwhile, Delmar, Slingerlands, Guilderland Center, Voorheesville and Altamont ZIP codes all have populations in which more than 99 percent have received a vaccination.

  • Boosters are recommended because the effectiveness of the vaccine wanes over time.

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