OSWEGO, NY ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ The two candidates for the 48th District Senate seat squared off Thursday night in a town hall debate at Steamers in Oswego.
Incumbent Darrel Aubertine (Democrat) and challenger David Renzi (Republican) fielded questions from the public on a variety of issues from nuclear power to the current state of Central New York’s economy.
“It’s going to take leadership and vision and experience to move New York State forward from where we are now in the economic climate that we’re all experiencing,” Aubertine said in his opening remarks. “I think I bring to the table the experience and the knowledge base needed to participate and to move and speak for this region of the state.”
The issues “are vast, they are big,” he admits, but added, “They are very fundamental.”
The race is very important for a lot of reasons, Renzi said in his opening remarks.
“There are a lot of incredible natural opportunities (in Oswego) that the state of New York for the last several years hasn’t capitalized on,” he said. “There are tremendous opportunities throughout the district. But what we need is a vision that is different than what weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ve had the last six years. Things have been going the wrong way. I will respectfully submit, I am dissatisfied with Sen. Aubertine and that’s why I decided to run, because I think we can do better.”
Both candidates said they support non-profit organizations and would do what they could to assist them.
“It’s extremely important that we recognize the roles these institutions play,” Aubertine said, citing the work done by the Oswego YMCA, the sponsor of Thursday’s meeting.
“I recognize the value that these not-for-profits bring to the region and the state as a whole and the country as a whole,” Renzi said. “I think it’s great that there is a not-for-profit status opportunity for agencies such as (the YMCA).”
The candidates were asked their views regarding Medicaid.
“There’s tremendous waste in the Medicaid system right now,” Renzi said.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â “The biggest problem with Medicaid right now, in my opinion, is the massive abuse with it. That would be what I’d focus on as a state senator.”
The state has recognized the fraud in the system and is doing something about it, the senator said.
“It was never intended to be placed on the backs of property taxpayers in the state,” he said, adding the state passed a law aimed at taking the burden off of counties and take that burden on solely.”
Aubertine was asked if his support of nuclear power was a political strategy or a shift in ideology.
It is a shift that has come over the past decade or more, Aubertine answered.
Renzi said he is a firm supporter of nuclear power.
“To me, nuclear in the greenest way to go, and very safe way to go,” he said.
Another audience member asked what would be done with the waste from the nuclear plant, especially if a fourth facility is built.
Renzi noted that the federal government is looking at storage sites out west. And, he said, some countries are examining ways to regenerate some of the spent fuel.
“I agree. The NRC is going to play a major role in how nuclear waste is ultimately dealt with,” Aubertine said.
A representative of the National Rifle Association traveled from Watertown to attend the meeting.
“We are deeply concerned about the Senate being taken over by the Democratic Party and oppressive gun control laws being passed,” he said.
“I would continue to do what I’ve done in the past, and work very had to move legislation for sportsmen on many different issues,” Aubertine said. “I would do everything in my power to make sure that sportsmen’s issues are heard.”
“If the senate does flip to the Democrats, the reality is say goodbye to your guns,” Renzi said. “Because Sen. Aubertine will not have the authority to stop it, no matter what his positions are.”
“You can laugh all you want,” he continued addressing several loud groans from the audience. “NYPIRG, the independent watchdog agency, labeled (Aubertine) the lowest of all legislators in terms of effectiveness.”
Aubertine only got 16 percent of his bills passed when he was in the Assembly, Renzi pointed out.
Sixteen percent is actually a very high percentage, Aubertine explained.
“That’s higher than most of the leadership positions in the Assembly,” he told Oswego County Today after the debate. “Sixteen percent is a whole lot.”
Brian Behling of Mexico asked if Aubertine supported cutting funding for SUNY.
“In these hard fiscal times, there are going to be a lot of hard decisions to be made. Everything is on the table,” he responded.
The economic hard times didn’t happen overnight, Renzi noted.
“We got here because of people voting on pork and unnecessary things year in and year out,” he charged.
For example he said this area received $1 million less than the governor proposed for state aid to schools.
Aubertine countered that Renzi failed to say that the district got $46 million more than it got in 2007; on average, over 7 percent per school district. “That’s a pretty substantial increase, I think,” he said.
Sandy Blanchard asked Renzi about an article in the Watertown newspaper accusing him of pension fraud. If he claims to be innocent, why doesn’t he call for an independent audit, she asked.
“I did nothing wrong and what was put out there is lies,” he said. “I had a position where I was offered benefits, and I paid for those benefits. At the end of the year, I actually had to write a check to the place where I worked.”
Renzi said Aubertine put the information out there to take the attention away from the fact the senator hired his sister in violation of anti-nepotism laws.
That statement drew a mix of applause and jeers from the large crowd.
The money hasn’t been paid back, Renzi continued.
They are in the process of making arrangements for repayment, the senator pointed out.
“My sister did work for me for 21 days,” he said.
Rick Bishop asked when the high taxes would come to an end.
“A lot of it’s coming from unfunded mandates,” Aubertine said. “I did vote in favor of a bill that would end unfunded mandates. If you’re going to come up with a good idea for a school district, municipality or anywhere else, fund it; come up with a way to pay for it.”
“These taxes didn’t happen overnight. It’s a result of a tax and spend policy that my opponent has been a large part of for six years,” Renzi said.
In response to a question from Sue Sweet, Oswego Third Ward alderman, regarding the possibility of sex offenders changing their names to circumvent the law, both candidates vowed to do whatever they could to close such loopholes.
“The laws need to be tougher up front. There is no three strikes and you’re out. It’s one strike and you’re in,” Aubertine said.
“I would an advocate to close any loopholes, specifically the one you mentioned, for violent sexual offenders,” Renzi added. “There is nothing more important in government than making sure our children are kept safe.”
“If the Senate goes Democrat, do you expect a law would be passed in New York allowing same-sex marriages?” Judy Santore asked the senator.
There are several lawmakers, “including me,” that aren’t in favor of same-sex marriages, he replied.
He said he doesn’t believe there would be such a law “at any point in time.”
“My feeling on the issue is that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Renzi said. However, he believes that there would be enough support to get such a law passed.
Georgiana Mansfield of Scriba asked the senator about a law, she said he passed, that gives people with wind turbines on their property wouldn’t have their property taxes increased; and that he has wind turbines on his property.
“Do you really think that’s fair to the rest of us property owners?” she asked.
“I don’t have any wind turbines,” the senator clarified. He did admit to having contracts to tentatively have windmills to be placed on his property.
“Those sorts of deals are put together as a host community benefit, outside of the realm of property taxes,” he said.
“The issue is an elected official voting on something that he could potentially benefit from,” Renzi noted. “That smacks of corruption.”
“I certainly wouldn’t support any elected official taking it upon themselves to vote in a fashion that would benefit them and them alone,” the senator responded.
“Mr. Renzi, you have stated that you wanted this to be a positive campaign. But, you have done nothing but attack Sen. Aubertine in the papers and here tonight. How do you expect us to believe you when you are not even able to keep your word?” Brenda Earl of Oswego chastised Renzi. “Right here tonight, you’re attacking him personally and not on the issues. We want to know the issues, not your personal opinion of Mr. Aubertine.”
“The senator is very good at saying, ‘Wow, I am getting picked on again,’ and this is a great example of it. I have commercials that are specific to the issues, about his tax record, about his voting record,” Renzi responded. “I never said anything personal about the man. The reality is you have to have some kind of comparison in an election.”
Oswego’s Miles Becker summed up what’s on all the voters’ minds.
“Who’s gonna bring home the bacon, especially when you’re a junior senator?” he poised.
“I believe I’d be very effective,” Renzi said.
Aubertine pointed out his ability to build partnerships and work with the other senators.
“The ability to work across party lines in a collaborative fashion, with both houses and other officials, is what I bring to the table,” he said.