ELECTION 2012: Voters will choose new voice

Special election Tuesday, March 20, will fill seat held by Molinaro

GHENT–Voters in the largest Assembly district in the county, the 103rd, will go to the polls this Tuesday, March 20, to choose the person to fill the seat left vacant when former Assemblyman Marcus Molinaro resigned late last year to take up his new duties as Dutchess County executive.

In this special election, the only one in the county, Democrat Didi Barrett is running against Republican Richard Wager. Ms. Barrett, who lost her bid in 2010 for a seat in the state Senate, also has the endorsement of the Working Families Party. Mr. Wager, who has not previously run for office, also appears on the Conservative and Independence Party lines.

 

The 103rd Assembly District presently includes the city of Hudson and the towns of Ancram, Austerlitz, Canaan, Claverack, Copake, Ghent, Greenport, Hillsdale and Stockport in Columbia County and 12 Dutchess County towns, including Red Hook, Milan, Millerton and Pine Plains and much of the eastern side of that county, stretching south to the Putnam County border. Both candidates live in the Dutchess County Town of Washington.

The special election is the same day as village elections, and residents of the Village of Chatham who live in the Town of Ghent and some Philmont voters who normally vote in Claverack will have to vote at one site for village elections and another for the special Assembly contest. For more information contact the county Board of Elections, 518 828-3115 or go to the board’s website, www.columbiacountyny.com/depts/elections/index.html for the list of polling places.

The winner Tuesday will serve the balance of Mr. Molinaro’s term, which expires at the end of the year. The current proposal for redrawn Assembly districts would put Columbia County and the Town of Washington in different districts next year, meaning neither Ms. Barrett nor Mr. Wager would be on the November ballot in this county. The proposal is not yet final.

There were nearly 81,000 active voters registered in the 103rd District as of last November. Only 27% of them live in Columbia County, where Democrats hold a slight plurality over the GOP in terms of registration. Republicans hold a big registration advantage in Dutchess County, which gives GOP candidates an edge.

Didi Barrett

Ms. Barrett, a community activist and leader of not-for-profit organizations in the Hudson Valley and New York City, has lived in the Town of Washington for 25 years. She has family ties to Ancramdale in Columbia County. She is a member of the advisory boards for: Poughkeepsie Plenty, a food justice project; the Poughkeepsie Farmer’s Market alliance with Walkway Over the Hudson; and SEED (Smart Eating Every Day), a healthy lifestyle project for rural children and families.

She spearheaded the creation of the Dutchess Girls Collaborative to support local girls and young women and helped launch and is a board member of the North East Dutchess Fund (NED) of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, which focuses on improving life in the six towns in the northeastern part of the county. She helped create the NED Corps program to deliver social services to that region and serves on its affiliated Latino Roundtable. She is a trustee of the Anderson Foundation for Autism and is on the board of the Millbrook Education Foundation and has twice served as coordinator for Millbrook’s Community Day.

She and her husband David Barrett, have two children.

Her website is www.didibarrett.com.

Having run for state Senate in this same region less than two years ago, she says, “I know what people are thinking about,” adding that if she’s elected she will bring those concerns to the attention of the leadership of both the Assembly and Governor Cuomo.

She says she wants to “bring the resources of the state back to the district.” And she adds, “I can do that on Day 1” because she would be a member of the Democratic majority in the Assembly.

Ms. Barrett, who has worked on projects that support local agriculture, says that state government needs to be reminded how “beautiful and critical are farms are.” She praises the governor’s efforts to fund local economic projects and says that a regional economic development plan for this part of the Hudson Valley “can happen and happen quickly.”

Asked about representing Hudson, the only city in the district, she says that among the issues facing the city are adequate resources for the schools and job training so there is a workforce ready to meet the needs of new businesses. She supports an increase in the minimum wage, saying that step must be coupled with a “package of incentives for small businesses, not just tax breaks for big companies.”

The arts and cultural tourism are big employers in the region and the state needs to focus more on helping those businesses. She also calls for more assistance to dairy farmers and for assistance to bring a slaughterhouse and a “quick-freeze” facility to Columbia County to reduce the distance and costs farmers now face.

As a member of the Assembly, she said she would make a point sitting with local economic development officials when they meet with businesses thinking of locating or expanding here, a practice she says would send a message that the state is engaged in supporting local business.

Ms. Barrett calls it “unacceptable” that so much of Columbia County does not have access to high speed Internet and wireless phone service.

On another topic she points to a fact of state government: “Women are under-represented in Albany.” She says that women in the legislature can help assure that women’s health and reproductive rights are considered in the legislative process.

Richard C. Wager

Mr. Wager, 40, is a consultant with an investment management firm that oversees $13 billion in assets. He has law and MBA degrees from Fordham University. He previously worked for the administrations of New York City Mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg on economic development and “restructuring” technology.

He is a native of Hyde Park in Dutchess County, where he attended public schools. He has a BA degree in history from Providence College. After college he joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps to work in poor communities and he still serves as a board officer of an affordable housing program in Birmingham, AL. He is also on the boards of Hudson River Housing, a nonprofit group, and the Hudson Valley Greenway Conservancy. He moved back to Dutchess County in 2007. He is married and has two young children.

His website is www.wager2012.com.

Mr. Wager says this election comes at a time when the state is “at a crucial crossroads in terms of how we’re going to govern going forward.”  He says that the state “stifles business and job opportunities” and he singles out public pension costs as “basically bankrupting our state.”

He describes Governor Cuomo as acting in “a reasonable and bi-partisan” manner and says he would be able to work with the state’s chief executive, a Democrat, in the same way the former Assemblyman Molinaro did. The governor appointed Mr. Molinaro to his transition team.

Mr. Wager says that business people often see state government as an economic threat that penalizes businesses rather than solving problems. Instead, he says, the governor and those who support him can change the approach of state agencies so that there’s a “partnership” that results in reaching common goals that “allow for growth.”

Asked about any special needs the City of Hudson has as the only urban community in the district, Mr. Wager says the same issues that affect the rest of the district apply to Hudson. He says he would work with the mayor and other city officials to give them “the tools they need” to accomplish what they think is best for the city.

He laments the “oppressive taxes” of the state and the low ratings the state has received as a place to do business. “We need to make structural changes … that will drive growth,” he says. “This election is about job creation and economic development,” says Mr. Wager.

He does not support the proposed redistricting plan introduced by the majority parties in each house of the state legislature, dismissing the gerrymandered lines as “political gamesmanship.” The plan, which would mean the district’s new Assembly member would not represent Columbia County after the next general election in November, is so bad that he believes the district lines may stay just the way they are now.

In either case, says Mr. Wager, “I anticipate I’ll be representing Columbia County.”

 

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