Poughkeepsie debate reveals differences and similarities between them
By Kevin E. Foley
New York City’s political agenda, the Common Core school standards, tax rates and business regulations are all dragons in need of slaying by state senators, at least according to a debate this week (Tuesday, Oct. 14) between incumbent Democratic Sen. Terry Gipson and challenger Republican Sue Serino. Gipson is also on the Working Families line while Serino has the endorsement of the Conservative Party.
Sponsored by the Dutchess County Association of Realtors (DCAR) for their members, the breakfast debate took place at the Dutchess Golf Club in Poughkeepsie. Before the debate began the DCAR legislative chair gave a report on the group’s Albany agenda, which accounted for a somewhat narrower scope of questions for the candidates.
Both Serino and Gipson appeared tense during the near hour of questions from a panel of DCAR members who also took written questions from the audience. No doubt some of the frostiness stemmed from weeks of daily attacks and denials regarding each other’s records and agendas through press releases and advertising. During the debate they remained civil in tone and the audience was unfailingly polite.
Gipson and Serino see themselves as fighters for the middle class, emphasizing support for lower taxes in several categories and regulation reduction as a means to job growth and retention of population in the Hudson Valley. Together with her husband, Serino owns a real estate agency in Hyde Park. She was a member of the Hyde Park Town Board and currently serves in the Dutchess County Legislature. “One of the main reasons I got involved in politics was all the red tape we had to go through when we started our business,” Serino said. “We need to streamline regulations.”
Gipson is a former owner of an event design business and a member of the Rhinebeck Town Board. “I have been working to create a more affordable and productive life for the citizens of the Hudson Valley,” Gipson said.
Military veterans received eager support from both candidates for tax reductions, increased benefits and assistance with job searches.
Although there were follow-up questions from the panel they generally didn’t zero in on the consequences of positions taken, particularly with regard to cutting taxes as opposed to balancing the state budget and maintaining levels of aid especially for education.
Both candidates said they were in opposition to the Common Core standards introduced into schools by the State Board of Regents and supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. They argued for a reconsideration of the program and greater consultation with teachers and parents as a key part of any new process.
The pair also agreed that a representative from the 41st Senatorial District had to be on guard against the dominance of New York senators and members of the State Assembly. “The New York City-led agenda is costing our fair share of aid,” Serino said.
“I was the first to call for [Sheldon] Silver’s resignation,” said Gipson during one exchange, referring to a long-serving Democratic Speaker of the Assembly from Manhattan. Serino agreed with that idea and also called for term limits as a necessary provision to break New York City’s hold on the state legislature. Gipson said he had reluctantly concluded the same thing.
Diverge on property tax
While they agreed that property taxes are too high, discouraging home sales and driving retirees from local communities, the pair disagreed on ways to address the problem. Serino, noting Gov. Cuomo’s introduction of the 2 percent cap formula said, “the governor hasn’t followed up on the promised mandate relief” (wherein the state government requires local governments to fund various programs). She also said direct state aid to education should be increased and full rebates should be given under the STAR program for homeowners. She did not say how much any of this could actually reduce property taxes.
Gipson said property taxes mainly went to pay for schools and the state needed to go in a different direction, doing away with the current system of education funding. Although he shied away from a specific recommendation, the statewide income and sales taxes would have to be likely targets. Such ideas have been floated in the legislature but gained no traction.
Safe Act disagreement
Serino generated a few sparks with a full-throated defense of gun ownership and a rejection of the state’s Safe Act law, a Cuomo-led initiative in the wake of the shootings of children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
“I support the Constitution and the Second Amendment … the Safe Act was a knee-jerk reaction to tragedy,” said Serino. She went on to say the issue was really about people needing mental health treatment, not restrictions on legal gun owners. She did not propose added funding for mental health.
“The law makes it harder to get guns … it provides for background checks … it makes the community safer,” Gipson said. “I have a strong record on crime and law enforcement,” he added. The senator also pointed out the law allows judges broader latitude to pursue mental health options with defendants.
A few times during the discussion Serino attempted to paint Gipson as a supporter of state funding for prisoner college education, an idea floated by Gov. Cuomo but withdrawn early in this year’s legislative session. Gipson said he supported private initiatives as they resulted in convicts returning to the workplace rather than prison but that he was opposed to use of state funds.
When he was allowed to ask Serino why she kept saying that about him and to what law she was referring, she said there was talk of funding prisoners and she was against it but did not cite evidence of Gipson support.
When Serino’s turn to ask Gipson a question came, she wanted to know whom Gipson voted for in the Democratic primary for governor between Cuomo and law school professor Zephyr Teachout. Gipson smiled, acknowledging it was a good question, but he declined to answer citing the privacy of the voting booth.