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108th Assembly Candidates Debate

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Albany County legislator Sam Fein is looking to unseat incumbent John McDonald in the Democratic primary to represent the 108th district in the New York state Assembly. The two recently debated ahead of June 23rd’s election.
Fein, who just turned 30, grew up in Massachusetts and moved to the Capital Region in 2008. The 2012 Union College grad was elected to the Albany County Legislature in 2015 and is now serving a second four-year term.

"I'm running for Assembly because I'm tired of the go along go get along policy that we see too much of, because I believe we need proactive leaders who champion the issues and impact people throughout our community."

McDonald says he’s confident voters will stick with him. A former Cohoes mayor, he will be going for a fifth term in the 108th district, which includes parts of Albany, Rensselaer and Saratoga Counties. He says he'll run on his record, which includes support for education, affordable housing, blight removal and climate change.

"I did my homework. I make sure I understand the issues. I'm not always a 'yes' vote. Because many times I've broken with leadership. Because at the end of the day I'm here to represent the interests of all of our constituents."

The candidates answered questions from the public submitted to the League of Women Voters.

John McDonald, Sam Fein

Both said they support a state-sponsored universal health care plan and campaign finance reform legislation for state elected offices.

Asked about introducing legislation to help renters and homeowners during pandemic recovery, Fein said he would call for "real relief" for people who are struggling.

"...based on the situation they're in now and the funding can't be limited because then people will be denied and they'll go on a waitlist. And we have the funding to do this. We just have to have the courage to tax the wealthiest people in this state."

McDonald says lawmakers have already appropriated $100 million dollars of federal money that came to the state to help both tenants and landlords.

"When I say landlords, I'm talking about small landlords, not the corporate giants, but the average person who owns two or three families in the South End. And to be honest with you, I wish we had more resources to do it."

On voting reform, Fein and McDonald both said they would support a constiutuional amendment that would allow voters to obtain a "no excuse" absentee ballot.

Fein: "We've really been behind for years on accesibility to voting in New York state. I'm very happy that we've made some big strides in the last three years but there's a lot more that we can do." McDonald: "I supported that legislation in the Assembly. It's something we'll bring up again in our next session to bring it to the people to make that decision."

Asked what they would do to address environmental issues impacting low-income residents in places like Cohoes (in the shadow of the Norlite plant), the Dunn Dump in Rensselaer and Albany's South End, impacted by heavy truck and rail pollution, both candidates lauded  efforts and leadership stands they've already taken when it comes to pollution problems.

As businesses and residents struggle to recover in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests and the coronavorus pandemic, McDonald says lawmakers routinely work with local governments to address these issues.

"Legislation that Pat Fahy and I worked on together to bring lead money to the city of Albany to help them to help residents who are struggling with mental health and behavioral issues by not becoming arrested but are getting support and treatment. We need to find more programs like that."

Fein says "we have to put more money into our communities."

"People are protesting because of an unjust system. An unjust system that has left so many communities negelected for so long, so many people living in poverty without opportunity, and if we want to address that, we're going to have to address in investing balck and brown communities throughout the state and especially throughout the 108th district."

The primary is June 23rd.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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