Gov. Hochul visits Fulton County, discusses plans for local governments

Gov. Kathy Hochul gives a speech at the Holiday Inn on Saturday in Johnstown.

Photo Caption: Gov. Kathy Hochul gives a speech at the Holiday Inn on Saturday in Johnstown.

JOHNSTOWN — Gov. Kathy Hochul visited Fulton County Saturday on the first day of early voting, carrying with her a simple message — her administration intends to be a friend to local governments in upstate New York.

Hochul, from Erie County, said many people call local elections the “off-year” elections, because neither the U.S. president nor the state governor is up for election. She said that mentality is backwards.

“This is the ‘on’ year,” she said. ” I served in county government — it was a privilege —and now as governor, I have decided we need to do things differently. First of all, we need to restore the power back to the localities. The state of New York for far too long has been heavy handed and being dictatorial and telling local governments what to do. Local governments know best. They know what their constituents need. I will be there to lift them up, to help them and to guide them, but we are reframing our whole philosophy of government. State government is there to help local governments, and that is why the local government, and the people running for office, our incumbents and our new candidates, this is where the power needs to reside. You represent the people most directly. I respect that because I am still hard-wired to think about things locally.”

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Hochul spoke before a gathering of approximately 45 people inside the conference room at the Johnstown-Gloversville Holiday Inn Saturday at an event organized by the Fulton County Democratic Committee and its Chairman Ed Jasewicz. She said she’s made it a point to come to Fulton County each of the years she served as lieutenant governor, including trips to the Sunderland Leather Co. factory to watch the leather gloves they made for the U.S. Olympic athletes, and to the recently renovated Gloversville Public Library.

Most of the people in attendance were either current or former local Democratic Party elected officials, but also a few Republicans keen to observe the first New York state governor from upstate New York since Republican Nathan Miller, from Cortland County, who served exactly 100 years ago from 1921-22. She’s also the first woman ever to hold the office.

Fulton County Democratic Vice Chairwoman Robin Wentworth, who is also the chair of the Gloversville city committee, gave a speech introducing Hochul, listing some of her accomplishments, including having co-founded the “Kathleen Mary House” a transitional home for victims of domestic violence, chairing the New York State Women’s Suffrage Commission, and her track record of being elected as a Democrat in parts of upstate New York with many registered Republicans.

“As lieutenant governor, she chaired the statewide Regional Economic Development Council and served as co-chair of the New York State Heroin and Opioid Task Force,” Wentworth said. “She also championed the ‘Enough is Enough Law’ to prevent sexual assault on college campuses, spearheaded the state’s paid family leave program and worked to eliminate the gender wage gap, to expand access to affordable child care.”

Several people in attendance at the speech said they are hopeful Hochul will be returning to Fulton County later this year to announce Gloversville as the winner of one of the two $10 million New York state Downtown Revitalization Initiative [DRI] grants being awarded for the Mohawk Valley Region for 2021.

This is Gloversville’s fifth attempt at winning the $10 million grant. During the first four rounds of the contest Gloversville lost out to Oneonta, Rome, the city of Amsterdam and the 2019 winner Utica. The remaining three cities in the Mohawk Valley Region that have previously applied for the DRI grant and not won it are: Gloversville, Cooperstown and Sharon Springs.

Hochul, who as Lt. governor often gave speeches announcing the winners of the DRI grants, has indicated as governor she intends to continue the DRI economic development program that was started under her predecessor Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

During her speech Hochul said she spent 14-years in local government in upstate New York, from 1994 to 2007 on the Hamburg Town Board and from 2007 to 2010 as Erie County Clerk, before being elected to serve in congress from the 26th Congressional District in 2011, a seat previously held by Republicans since 2002. She said she knows being a part of the minority party can be difficult in local politics.

“I know this because, as you heard from Robin, I represented the most red congressional district in the state of New York,” Hochul said. “So, I understand what it’s all about. And when I look at a room like this, I am looking at the true believers. I know that there are communities where it is to your disadvantage because the jobs for your kids and your friends are going to other people who may be Republicans, and that’s local politics at its worst, but that’s what happens. And I know that you stay with it because you are, at your core, the true believers in the democratic values that do fight for the working men and women and to make sure that people have access to good quality health care and the best education that’s available, because every child deserves that, and to make sure we’re fighting for our farmers who often feel overlooked and the people in rural counties who don’t have the broadband or the access to markets, and so many other things that people in other parts they take for granted. I understand that. I’ve lived that, and you are the ones who are fighting for your neighbors and the people of this county.”

Fulton County has a little more than twice as many registered Republicans (16,553) as registered Democrats (7,775) but there are also 7,106 registered independents, voters with no party affiliation, according to the most recent voter registration report to the New York state Board of Elections on Feb. 21.

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In Fulton County most of the elected Democrats serve the city of Gloversville, including: Mayor Vince DeSantis, 1st Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss, 3rd Ward Councilwoman Betsy Batchelor, 1st Ward Supervisor Marie Born, 2nd Ward Supervisor Frank Laurie and 5th Ward Supervisor Greg Young, all of whom were in attendance Saturday, as well as incumbent Mayfield Town Board member Roberta Ricciardi.

Some of the complexities of Fulton County politics were also on display. Laurie and DeSantis are both former Republicans and DeSantis is also the founder of the “Gloversville Party,” a bi-partisan fusion ticket that includes Republican 2nd Ward Councilman Arthur Simonds, who is running for Gloversville councilman-at-large.

Simonds was not in attendance for the speech.

In recent elections there has been controversy when the Fulton Democratic Committee in 2019 chose not to endorse DeSantis, the highest ranking elected Democrat in the county. In 2017 Wentworth endorsed Republican Mayoral candidate William Rowback Jr. in his election against former mayor Dayton King, a renegade Republican who was also aligned with DeSantis’ Gloversville Party.

Second Ward Supervisor Frank Laurie gave a speech at the event emphasizing the importance of bi-partisan cooperation in Fulton County, something he learned serving as both an elected Republican and an elected Democrat. He praised current Mayor Vince DeSantis’ brother, former Gloversville Mayor Frank DeSantis, who was also in attendance.

“I had the best working relationship with him I ever had in my career as a Democrat, and at that time, as a Republican,” Laurie said.

For 2021 the Fulton County Democratic Committee has endorsed all of its candidates, which also include: City of Johnstown mayoral candidate Michael Rose, City of Johnstown 4th Ward Councilman Max Spritzer, Dennis Gray of Oppenheim, Timothy Koeona of Perth, and David Marshall and Allicia Rice of Stratford.

Rose did not attend Hochul’s speech and did not participate in a previously scheduled radio debate Saturday morning on radio station WENT with city of Johnstown Republican mayoral candidate Amy Praught. Rose told WENT that he had a work commitment that forced him to miss both events.

After Hochul’s speech, DeSantis gave a brief speech thanking her for coming to Fulton County.

“I don’t know how long it’s been since we had a sitting governor of New York here in Fulton County, but we’re so honored to have you here,” DeSantis said. “I just have to say just one thing very briefly, the day that Gov. Hochul took the reins of authority, the day that she became governor, I just felt personally, and I think I speak for a lot of you, that it was a breath of fresh air. I felt like there were things that were possible for us because of you, governor, that were not possible before. The communication, you know, the dialog and the idea of working together. So, we’re very honored, and I appreciate you being here, and I appreciate you being, you know, our governor.”

“Thank you,” Hochul said.

Hochul did not take questions from the news media before leaving for another event in Syracuse on Saturday.

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By Jason Subik

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