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Race for New York state Assembly’s 103rd district taking shape

103rd Assembly district candidates Kevin Cahill and Sarahana Shrestha
Provided by candidates' websites.
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NY 103rd Assembly district candidates Kevin Cahill and Sarahana Shrestha

A Democratic primary is taking shape in New York’s 103rd Assembly district.

Longtime Assemblymember Kevin Cahill is running against political newcomer Sarahana Shrestha, a justice and climate activist originally from Nepal.

Cahill, serving his 13th two-year term, says the redrawn 103rd district includes more of Ulster County.

"We will be adding the town and village of Saugerties back into the district," said Cahill. "Unfortunately, some of the towns on the peripheral part of Ulster County in the 103rd district will be lost. Shandaken, the town of Rochester and the town of Seneca will be taken out of the district, but it will still have Red Hook and Rhinebeck and a significant part of Ulster County."

Shrestha says her activism for climate change laid the foundation for her candidacy. She says as COVID-19 raged on, it enhanced her sense that there was a disconnect between what people needed versus what their elected representatives were seeking in Albany.

"A pandemic is a small taste of what can happen during the climate crisis, whether we're talking about childcare, or teachers, safety at school, or hospital capacity, or, you know, weather events," said Shrestha. "These are usually disruptive things that we are facing. And I felt like it was no point having a personal goal in my personal life, when the world around me was really in, you know, chaos, and there's so much potential in New York state, what we can do in terms of addressing these challenges. And I wanted to be, I wanted to be part of the movement that would do that."

Cahill says he recognizes the challenges New Yorkers face coming out of COVID and the new threat of inflation and the Russia-Ukraine conflict. He says he stands on his record and expects voters in the 103rd will recognize that.

"The international situation doesn't directly affect us except how it indirectly affects us economically, of course, we will be living under the shadow of the specter of a European war and possibly further American involvement in that will change everybody's point of view," said Cahill. "But in terms of how do I intend to seek office, again, I'm very fortunate in that being in the assembly is a fresh and different jobs every single year. So it's not as though this is the first time that it's going to be new again. I will be advocating for the record that I have, making sure people understand it, but also demonstrating that even though I might have been here for a while, it's still a brand new job every year and I still have that same freshmen enthusiasm that I had when I first got here."

The Working Families Party, which had endorsed Cahill the last two decades, is backing Shrestha in June. Shrestha's campaign has been hawking sweatshirts that display the message "Green New Deal before it deals with you." Shrestha says after knocking on thousands of doors, voter concerns include taxes, housing, healthcare and skyrocketing utility bills.

“People are having a very difficult time, you know, finding anything that they can rent, you know. People of color, and younger people have a really hard time buying a house," Shrestha said. "The other thing is there are a lot of health care workers in our district, and also teachers who feel very much abandoned, who feel exhausted, who feel like they themselves need counseling, and, and support. And then we also have lots of residents who have spoken to us about how much they struggle with access to health care, even, you know, especially older folks as well. Everybody wants better health care. And then recently, we had a huge power outage, in Ulster County, which is a big bulk of the district. It lasted as long as four days in some parts of the district. And we have central Hudson here, that is the monopoly corporation that, you know, distributes our energy. “

Cahill says his focus includes many of the same issues.

"Certainly the existential challenge is climate change. More contemporary is the issue about the cost of living and in particular, right now people are reeling from high utility bills, irrational utility bills because of a billing system problem that are a local utility experienced, and also the same high cost of fuel that everyone else is facing," Cahill said. "So that cost of living issue is very important. The other issue that we face in our communities that is unique is the housing situation. We have become sort of a mecca for people abandoning their urban roots, to find refuge in the countryside. And we happen to be that countryside. While it has been great for the real estate market, it has also been a problem for people who are looking to purchase a house for the first time or looking to rent an affordable living space."

Shrestha says she believes voters are ready to support a progressive agenda.

"The world has changed since my opponent took office, the world has changed, the need has changed, the scope of the crises has changed. So we really need to act boldly and act urgently,” Shrestha said.

Cahill urges voters to show up at the polls on June 28th.

"If numbers are following the trends of the past, every vote counts the same as 20 votes or at a minimum 10 votes from the number of eligible people vote so, the people who will be deciding who is their representative in the New York State Assembly in 2023 will be the people who don't go to vote," Cahill said. "If you really want to participate and make a difference. You have to learn about the candidates and go out there and cast your vote."

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.