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21-year-old Zak Constantine, UAlbany undergrad, running for New York state Assembly’s 99th district

Zak Constantine
Zak Constantine
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Zak Constantine

A young Democrat from Orange County is running for the New York state Assembly.

Zak Constantine says he's been interested in community issues and volunteerism since he was "very young." If elected, the 21-year-old University at Albany public administration student would be the youngest Assemblymember in state history.

"The first campaigns I volunteered on, to be quite honest, weren't even for Democrats, they were for Republicans," Constantine said. "But I learned very early on in my volunteerism that it's really important to sort of look at all different perspectives and sort of, as I honed my own positions on issues, I really realized that we need a productive government and one that is focused on solving problems and not complaining about them and dividing communities around issues and devices. You know, talking points, we need real, thoughtful solutions to complicated problems."

With incumbent Republican Assemblyman Colin Schmitt running for Congress, Constantine is running against Republican Town of Woodbury councilwoman Kathryn Luciani.

Both the Democratic and Republican state Assembly campaign committees told WAMC there is another Democrat gathering petitions to run, but the identity of that individual was unknown.

Constantine says while he enjoys knocking on doors and talking to voters, for the most part they've been expressing frustration.

"Even on the Democratic side, people feel like, ‘doesn't really matter who we elect, it's just going to be more of the same’ and that their vote doesn't make a difference," said Constantine. "And I'm telling folks that couldn't be further from the truth because, who we elect matters. And as a younger, you know, working class candidate who has been a legislative staffer who's, you know, my first job was selling shoes at the, you know, outlet mall across from where I was canvassing today. You know, I grew up in this community. And I realize that, you know, a lot of my peers that I came up with, went on to get bachelor's and master's degrees, they're coming home, they're struggling to find good paying jobs, or an affordable place to live, their parents feel like they're getting priced out of their communities as well. And there are common sense solutions to those problems. And when I start talking to folks about what some of those solutions are, you know, my plan is to hopefully lower our property taxes, protect our clean air and water… they get excited."

Constantine says his concerns include lowering property taxes, fully funding schools, investment in infrastructure and aging support. When it comes to issues like bail reform and defunding the police, he says there are no "one size fits all bumper sticker talking points."

“I find it heartbreaking the kinds of things that have happened in recent years," Constantine said. "I think every community needs to look at these issues on a case by case basis as they apply to them. And I understand the concern and all of this, this push to reform the way we do law enforcement, but we cannot expect our local police departments to do more with less. I mean, if you look at some of the communities in my district, there are a lot of departments that want to expand their technology and purchasing like body cameras, all to do a better job and to be more transparent. And they can't do that, if we're cutting their budgets.”

As for bail reform, Constantine says he doesn't rule out the possibility of making further changes.

“But I also don't want to open the door to things like bias. You know, if we allow too much discretion, we will reopen the door to bias," Constantine said. "But I do think that there are potential ways that we can mitigate that. I know, New Jersey has a system, they have reformed their bail system. And I believe they have some sort of rubric that helps judges determine when individuals should be remanded into custody and when they should be released. And I even talk to judges that say that, you know, sometimes it's just about educating the public as well, and making sure they're more aware of the role that judges have to play in who is released and who isn't. But I definitely think there's, there's still more work to do. I'm glad that our system is fairer than it was. But I'm not ready to end the conversation on how to make this program safer, that our communities are protected. Because that really is my number one priority, public safety.”

Schmitt is hoping to unseat Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney.