After a strong but unsuccessful challenge to Schenectady's Gary McCarthy in the 2019 Democratic mayoral primary, Thearse McCalmon is now running for New York state Senate in the 49th district. The popular incumbent, Republican Jim Tedisco, says he’s proud of his long record in state government.
McCalmon is originally from New York City. The Democrat settled in Schenectady in her early 20s, after a tragedy left her family homeless for three months.
She primaried McCarthy in his bid for a third four-year term. Inspired by that close defeat, McCalmon threw her hat in the ring for state Senate, defeating Donovan McRae in the June primary. McRae was backed by Schenectady Democrats and Mayor McCarthy.
Tedisco served more than three decades in the state Assembly, including a stint as Minority Leader, before he was elected to the state Senate in 2016.
The Republican says his focus for much of this year has been on helping constituents weather the pandemic and reaching out to businesses.
"I visited those businesses and brought PPE's and brought disinfectants to them. We did an unbelievable job and I thank my staff for that. For those individuals who were having problems getting unemployment checks, we must have got close to a thousand of those, to get those checks out to them. Of course working with the federal congressional people that we also work with to get the stimulus checks out and the loans, and I think you know the work I've been doing on the most vulnerable populations who lost their lives during these last seven months, our nursing home patients, who died in the home, but also got sick and died in the hospital."
The 70-year-old Tedisco cites creating jobs and bringing back the state's economy among his concerns. He says he and McCalmon do not see eye-to-eye on issues including public safety.
"I support our policemen and our law enforcement. I think it's ridiculous and I know my constituents think it’s an outrage that she talks about unfund the police. Yes, there are some bad policemen and I think we have to root them out, they have to lose their jobs. What happened to George Floyd is an abomination, and anybody who does that should not only lose their job, be arrested and go to jail, but my goodness, 99 percent of these men and women put their life on the line every day. The most beautiful sound that their family members have when they come home, they hear the sound of velcro, they're taking off their body armor. How many people go to work to protect us that use body armor?"
Tedisco, who has been a prominent supporter of St. Clare’s Hospital pensioners, is endorsed by major labor and law enforcement groups. He thinks McCalmon exhibits socialist leanings.
"You know, I'm a teacher and my opponent is a teacher. I've got the teacher's endorsement. I got the New York State United Teachers’ statewide endorsement. And I don't know how a teacher goes before her students and says 'Yeah I'm gonna help provide jobs, I'm gonna legalize prostitution.’ I mean, that's a disgrace, because the only thing it's gonna do, it's gonna continue to de-humanize women, but the other thing it will do maybe, is give pimps very expensive offices on Wall Street. That's no way to solve a problem, by just legalizing them."
McCalmon, who is 42, has the endorsement of former presidential candidate and native son Andrew Yang and says she identifies with Yang's "people over politics" stance. She also favors his idea of a Universal Basic Income.
"If we had those stimulus checks since the shutdown, every single month, every family could get $1000 or even $1200 every month, which we can do, we definitely would not be in the situation we are right now. I would not be sitting here telling you 'I can't sell my house and regular folks can't pay rent - neither can I.' I wouldn't be saying that if we had that. Alaska has been doing it for years. Their revenue that supports UBI which I'm going to be pushing forward, is oil. Our oil is technology. That's our oil money of the 21st century. We can do value added tax, stock transfer tax, all of those things can definitely help support a continuation of stimulus checks."
McCalmon believes she has her finger firmly on the pulse of the people.
"Because it's just simple logic and it's not 'well, I have to play party politics' or some nonsense like that. I'm living it, I know it, and I know and so do the people that I'm representing understand exactly what it is that they need. And I think that's what's missing from our leadership right now. They have forgotten how to listen to the people and work for the people, not themselves."
She thinks the 49th is ready for new leadership.
"Looking at this current representative, my question is, 'are you creating commerce or noise? Commerce in the sense of social dealing with the people, what has been essential to all. And are you creating value or likes? It seems that our current representative is more for photo ops, ribbon cuttings and ice cream socials instead of actually sitting and listening. When I am elected, I will make sure that I always listen to the people, always, like I do now."
The 4,000-square mile, heavily Republican state Senate district encompasses all of Fulton and Hamilton counties and parts of Saratoga, Schenectady and Herkimer counties.