49TH SENATE DISTRICT Running against state Sen. Hugh Farley is almost like taking on an institution.
First elected in 1976, the 79-year-old Republican from Niskayuna has handily defeated every challenger that has come his way and has even seemed to gain momentum in recent years. He cruised to victory against former Schenectady County Legislature chairwoman Susan Savage in 2010.
And if he can win re-election next week, Farley will become the state Senate’s longest tenured member. Among state legislators, only Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has held office as long as Farley.
EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: American University School of Law;U niversity at Albany; Mohawk Valley Community College; State Senator; Niskayuna Town Councilman; Professor of Business Law at the University at Albany; high school teacher; Army veteran
AGE: Turns 59 on Election Day
BALLOT LINES: Democratic, Working Families
EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: High School, some college. Began as an office clerk and progressed into technical and industrial sales. Experience includes manufacturing and document management consulting and production analysis. Director of pastoral care at Glendale Nursing Home
During his last term, Farley has been part of a Republican majority in the Senate that has worked amicably with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a manner that he believes has dispelled some of the Legislature’s reputation for dysfunction. Despite his longevity, Farley said his zeal for serving in the Senate hasn’t diminished since he took office nearly four decades ago.
“I love my job,” Farley said. “I love being a senator.”
But Madelyn Thorne believes change is afoot. The Schenectady Democrat, who turns 59 on Election Day, said her candidacy in the Senate’s 49th District will give voters a chance to elect a candidate who will better represent the interests of middle-class people.
“People know our representative is no longer working for us,” she said “They are ready and even eager for a change.”
Thorne might not seem like an ideal candidate to go up against a politician who has nearly 36 years of experience. She serves as the director of pastoral care at the Schenectady County-owned Glendale Home nursing facility in Glenville and is a political neophyte.
Still, she believes her message is resonating with voters who are a ready for fresh ideas. Thorne supports raising the minimum wage and bringing more equitable distribution of school aid to the Legislature, so districts know how much aid to expect long before the state budget is passed during the spring.
Thorne is also an advocate for relieving counties of their Medicaid burden, something that has prompted some municipal governments to override the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap. The Schenectady County Legislature — which represents more than a third of the 49th District’s voters — blamed Medicaid expenses and other unfunded mandates for driving a 5.9 percent increase in the 2013 tax levy.
“The cap was passed with the promise from the state of mandate relief,” Thorne said “The relief never came — basically the cart was placed before the horse.”
Farley agrees Medicaid has become a problem for municipalities and said he advocates for reform at the state level, but fears Albany doesn’t have the political will to push through such changes. He advocates for creating a bipartisan commission that would analyze the issue and propose well-reasoned changes that both houses of the Legislature could support.
“We have to look at this,” he said. “Medicaid is growing way faster than inflation and has been a huge burden not only on the local governments but to the state of New York.”
The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County and the Chamber of Commerce for Southern Saratoga County hosted a candidate forum for the 49th Senate District, which includes parts of Schenectady, Fulton and Saratoga counties. The forum featured incumbent Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, and Democratic challenger Madelyn Thorne.
More immediately, however, Farley believes the Legislature will need to address the looming cost of recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Cuomo has already estimated the massive storm could cost the state more than $6 billion in damages and economic loss.
Farley said the state is going to be in a very precarious financial position as the cost of recovery bleeds into next year’s budget. He said finding ways to fund the recovery will be among his top priorities heading into the next legislative session.
“This tragic storm has made it a whole new ballgame,” he said.
The redistricted seat includes eastern Schenectady County, western Saratoga County, Hamilton County, Fulton County and the northern two-thirds of Herkimer County. The district closely resembles one Farley presided over years ago and is weighted with Republican voters.
The sprawling district is the second largest in the state geographically. Farley said the area requires someone of his experience and not a freshman legislator who has never held public office.
“She’s a very nice lady, but unfortunately, she’s never been in elected office,” he said.