COLUMBIA COUNTY–Incumbent Assembly member Didi Barrett, a Democrat, and David Bryrne, a Republican and town councilman, are seeking to represent what is now 106th state Assembly District. The new district includes the Columbia County Towns of Ghent, Claverack, Germantown, Livingston, Clermont, Taghkanic, Copake, Ancram and Greenport, and the City of Hudson. It also includes nine towns in Dutchess County as far south as the Town of Poughkeepsie.
Ms. Barrett won a special election in March to represent the 103rd–roughly similar to the new 106th District, after Assemblyman Marcus Molinaro resigned to become Dutchess County executive.
The election is Tuesday, November 6.
In a phone interview, Ms. Barrett said she is proud of her short term in the Assembly, saying she was able to keep her campaign promises of voting against tax increases and being a full-time legislator. “I’ve been true to my word,” she said.
She sits on the Assembly Agriculture Committee as well as the committees on Aging and Veterans Affairs. “I’ve worked in all those areas in Columbia County,” she said, citing her work with the county Department on Aging. She also stressed to her fellow Assembly members that the farmers in her district are selling their food to constituents in their districts. “We are one state,” she said, though one of her goals when working with members of her Democratic conference from downstate is to educate them about the needs of her district.
Ms. Barrett is the co-sponsor of the Unfunded Mandate Relief Act. She said that when the state adopted the 2% cap on property tax increases there was supposed to be mandate relief, which has yet to be fully achieved. “Medicaid is the biggest of those mandates,” she said. She is in favor of working with county leaders to find ways to save money for the state, and used the example of talking with county criminal justice officials about ways to save funds in how prisoners are housed and cared for.
“We need to find a different way to fund schools,” Ms. Barrett said, a mother of two children who went through New York State schools. She said he has looked into “hybrid” ways of funding schools that rely on a mix of property and income taxes.
As for the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, debate, Ms. Barrett has supported the state moratorium on the process, saying she has seen no conclusive study on the environmental impact of this method of extracting natural gas.
She was in the county recently talking to residents and state officials about the fire in West Ghent at TCI, a facility that recycles old electrical transformers. Ms. Barrett praised the county for so quickly getting a “Code Red” alert system in place after the fire. She said “bringing people to the table” is part of her job as a local representative, and having “the voices of this region heard by Albany.”
Ms. Barrett has lived in the Hudson Valley for 25 years. Before winning her seat last spring she ran in 2010 unsuccessfully against state Senator Steve Saland (R-41st). For this campaign she is running on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines.
Her website is www.didibarrett.com.
Mr. Byrne is running on the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party lines. He is a graduate of Red Hook High School and the United States Military Academy at West Point. He is an Iraq war veteran and earned a Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge while serving in Iraq.
He works for a local solar energy company, called Hudson Solar, and runs his own real estate business. He has served on the Milan Town Board and, according to vote411.org, a nonpartisan website of the League of Women Voters Education Fund that allows candidates to respond to questions in an unedited manner, Mr. Byrne was “one of the first reps in New York to be certified in Solar Electric Technical Sales.”
In a phone interview Mr. Byrne said mandate reform as a major part of his campaign. “The principal of unfunded mandates is wrong,” he said. He talked about unfunded mandates for school districts that mean they pay more for construction costs, and ones that mean counties must cover more Medicaid costs. “Local taxpayers are footing the bill,” he said.
Mr. Byrne also mentioned the Thruway toll hike for commercial vehicles that affects farmers in the district. “Farmers are in the business to make a profit,” he said. He said he works with farmers through the solar company and has talked to many in the area about their business. He is a supporter of locally grown food, saying that having a local source of food is a “national security issue.”
On hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, Mr. Byrne said, “It’s the wrong choice for New York right now.” He wants the state to look into more renewable sources of energy, but he believes in “home rule,” but supports the suggestion that a municipality may try a pilot program to permit fracking it wants to. He said if elected he will go to Pennsylvania to look at the issues around fracking.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email firstname.lastname@example.org.