Former Republican New York State Assemblyman George Amedore and Democratic State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk engaged in the first debate in their rematch for the 46th district Senate seat today.
Two years have passed since Tkaczyk squeaked by Amedore in an 18-vote victory that only came after many recounts that saw the lead shift back and forth and delayed the Senator's "official" arrival in Albany for two months. The race is considered key as Republicans and Democrats fight for control of the Senate in November.
The 46th district covers parts of Albany, Schenectady and Ulster counties and all of Greene and Montgomery counties. Campaigning for the seat has been relatively quiet on both sides. But now that it’s fall, Tkaczyk expects a bigger bang. "I think it's still a little early. You know this is the first debate, and I think as we get closer to the elections we'll be more people will be interested in figuring out what their position is and how they'll be voting."
Ward Todd is the president of the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the debate at the Garden Plaza Hotel. "Frankly, with an hour time limit, it really is more of a 'meet the candidates' "
Each candidate was allotted three minutes for opening statements, then candidates fielded questions about the issues, given 2 minutes to answer with minute rebuttals. Amedore, a businessman, won the coin toss to go first, telling the audience he's glad to be back. "I had a good time of self-evaluating and looking at and watching what's going on in the state of New York. Unfortunately, things haven't gotten any better."
Tkaczyk, a farmer and former school board member, says she has fought and will continue to fight for the district. "And frankly, I didn't see that coming out of a sitting Assemblyman who had a district created just for him."
The seat was added to the Senate after the last round of reapportionment and was widely seen as tailor-made for then-Assemblyman Amedore.
On to the issues: the debaters tackled the Common Core education standards:
Amedore: "What we need to do is we need to totally reform or do away with it and start over" ... Tkacyzk : "It's important that we recognize improving standards is not a bad thing. We need to make sure that our kids are prepared for their future."
Amedore: "Our educational system in 2009 and 10 went through a drastic change when we had one party rule in Albany. You know what that change was? $3 billion stripped away from upstate schools. New York City schools were just fine. One part rule: Democratic controlled Senate, Democratic governor, Democratic-controlled Assembly." ... Tkacyzk : "I have been fighting for fair funding for our schools. I will continue to. The fact that my opponent did nothing while he was a sitting Assemblyman for six years proves to me that he will not be standing up for education in the future."
Amedore: "I don't know why we're still talking about it though. It's not going to happen in the state of New York. They want to continue to make it a political issue. What we should be doing right now is helping to bring our energy costs down." ... Tkacyzk : "Local home rule. That's where municipalities, towns and villages decide what type of industry, what type of zoning goes on in a community. They're the experts."
When asked 'What State Mandates would you rescind,’ Amedore mentioned the property tax burden; Tkaczyk favored creating one unified statewide primary date.
The candidates hold roughly similar but far from identical positions on the SAFE Act gun control law, and both say they support women's rights issues.
Jolanda Jansen is co-President of the League of Women Voters of the mid-Hudson Region: "I would like to see more people, especially young people, be aware of what the issues are and what's going on in local politics."
As Tkaczyk says, this will be one of the closest-watched races statewide: "People need to remember I only won by 18 votes. Every vote counts in this race. So I hope take the race seriously, learn about our positions, and come out and vote in November."
The candidates will debate again tonight at Proctors’ Theater in Schenectady at 7.