THOSE WHO LIVE in the 103rd Assembly District may know there’s a special election coming up this Tuesday, March 20. The polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and there’s only one contest on the ballot: the choice between two candidates running to fill the vacant Assembly seat: Didi Barrett on the Democratic and Working Families lines and Richard C. Wager on the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party lines.
Marcus Molinaro was the state assemblyman for the district until the end of last year. He was elected Dutchess County executive last fall and he left his state office with a year remaining in his term. The person elected to fill his seat will serve until the end of this year; to continue beyond then will require winning the general election this fall.
Where is the 103rd Assembly district? Right now the part that’s in Columbia County covers the City of Hudson and the Towns of Ancram, Austerlitz, Canaan, Claverack, Copake, Ghent, Greenport, Hillsdale and Stockport. That doesn’t include the dozen towns in Dutchess County, where the majority of the district’s population resides.
To make things more confusing, if you live in the part of the Village of Chatham that lies in the Town of Ghent, then you can vote in this election; if you live on the Town of Chatham side of Chatham village, you can’t. It’s a long story.
Both candidates live in central Dutchess County; both have impressive resumes that include public service. Neither has held office before, though both have aspired to elected positions.
In the fall of 2010 Ms. Barrett challenged state Senator Steve Saland (R-41st). I endorsed Sen. Saland because he has done much for the district and because the Democratic leadership in the Senate included people who literally turned out to be criminals.
Mr. Wager is a bright, articulate person quite aware of the overall issues facing the district. He is qualified for the office and undoubtedly cares about the people he seeks to represent. On many issues, including the need for economic development and mandate relief , he and Ms. Barrett don’t sound that far apart. Both see this election as an opportunity to bring more state resources to the district and the region.
The Assembly is firmly in the control of the Democrats from downstate. The Assembly leadership is not corrupt like its Senate counterparts were, but it does seem at times that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and those close to him pay little more than lip service to Upstate issues that don’t also affect the metropolitan area.
Mr. Wager’s approach is the only option available to him short of changing his party registration. He says that like Mr. Molinaro he will work with Governor Cuomo, who holds many views in common with state GOP leaders. But the governor seems already to understand the Upstate part of the puzzle. So it’s hard to see how working with the administration would yield immediate benefits that aren’t already available.
Ms. Barrett, on the other hand, points out that she would become part of the majority caucus in the Assembly as soon as she takes office. And though guarantees don’t exist in politics, that connection could prove helpful to Columbia County. At the very least Speaker Silver would know where we are. Nothing would prevent Ms. Barrett from reaching out to her fellow Democrat, Governor Cuomo, either.
Another intangible upside of electing Ms. Barrett is that her election would add another woman to the Assembly roster, and there are far too few women in elective office in this state.
There is no one idea that distinguishes these two energetic candidates, nor should anyone believe that any freshman legislator will be able to make big waves in a tradition-bound place like the state Assembly. But Ms. Barrett knows this district, including Columbia County. She gets what we need, which is more of the same active representation we have become accustomed to. And she could make inroads in those places where the power lies.
I believe she can deliver on her promise to look out for the interests of farmers and small businesses. But just in case you’re worried she can’t, the next election is only seven months away. Please vote for her on March 20.