By Tyler A. McNeil/The Leader-Herald
NISKAYUNA – While Hugh Farley doesn’t live in New York anymore, the retired Republican statesman still has an Empire State of mind.
Farley, who turns 91 on Nov. 26, served in the state Senate from 1977 to 2016 — the second-longest tenure in chamber history. While representing the greater Capital Region, he backed development initiatives in Schenectady, created hospice care and remained competitive in Democratic strongholds despite his opposition to issues such as marriage equality.
During the first half of his life, the North Country-raised U.S. Army veteran worked in education and law. Always carrying political ambitions, he held two terms on the Niskayuna Town Council before running for higher office.
Farley sold his home in Niskayuna to be closer to his wife, Sharon, as she received medical treatment in Port Richey, Florida, two years ago. She’s OK now, according to the former state senator.
While spending part of his time now in the South, Farley still keeps up with former colleagues, state politics and local happenings. The Daily Gazette recently caught up with him in a phone interview.
Editor’s note: Responses have edited for clarity and space.
Q: So how has retirement treated you?
A: Well, I read the Daily Gazette every day. Yeah, and I keep busy. I’m in Florida right now and I walk three miles every day and things are going pretty well. I follow things in New York the best I can. I was glad to see [state Sen.] Jimmy Tedisco won [reelection].
Q: Are you still in touch with him?
A: Yes, I am. He called me and I talked to him on Election Day and the day after. I talk with him frequently.
Q: In Florida, I assume there’s less people that when they see you out, they know you and want to talk about politics?
A: It’s amazing. I run into people who have become Florida residents and knew me. They were constituents of mine. I still have people coming up to me saying, ‘hi, Senator Farley, I was from Gloversville’ or something.
Q: Are you surprised by that?
A: Yeah, a little bit. They know me a lot better than I know them.
Q: Considering the polarizing political climate today, if the climate was the same when you first ran for state Senate, would you have done it?
A: You touched on a nerve. It’s quite divisive today. There was a lot more camaraderie [back then]. I was the type of person that got along with both Democrats and Republicans. It was just in my nature. I was always interested in politics ever since I was a little boy.
Q: Has there ever been a point in retirement where you’ve seen an issue on the table and thought, ‘Dang, I wish I could vote on that?’
A: I always try to follow politics as much as I can, but I’ve realized that I’m of the past tense. I don’t have a lot of influence anymore.
Q: What’s your take on bail reform?
A: That’s a huge failure. It’s like a swinging door. These people commit a crime and they’re out there the very next day on the street. That’s a real tragedy of our time and crime is a terrible issue. In my opinion, crime is one of the major reasons Lee Zeldin, who was a very dear friend of mine, did so well [in the governor’s race].
Q: There were a lot of pollsters saying that this could have been the year for Republicans to win the governorship. Did you have those expectations?
A: Yes, I did. I knew that Lee Zeldin is a very aggressive, bright guy. He’s a University at Albany graduate and when he served in the state Senate with me, he was very close to me and I was very proud of him.
Q: There was a lot of energy.
A: He ran a good, tough race. I’d like to see him become the Republican state chairman. That’d be a good job for him.
Q: I’ve seen a lot of candidates on both sides of the aisle attacked for their birthplace or where they were from before they moved into a district. You’re from Watertown, but you lived in the Schenectady County area a while before you entered the state Senate. Is there any legitimacy in attacking somebody’s local bonafides or is that just nativist, empty rhetoric?
A: I think it’s the latter. I don’t think it matters where you come from. It’s the type of person that you are. I was a Niskayuna councilman and from there I went to the New York State Senate, which was quite a quantum leap. I don’t think people ever questioned where I came from. That seems to be something that I think is rather unimportant in a person.
Q: What were your feelings when the Independent Democratic Conference broke up?
A: I was sorry to see that. I expected it was coming. [Former] Gov. Andrew Cuomo was responsible somewhat for breaking that up. I thought it was a good relationship, but it grated a great deal on the Democrats. It really bothered them.
Q: Yeah, I think you have a bit of a national profile on reading advocacy. Do you have any good book recommendations lately?
A: I’m kind of a history buff. I’ll give you one magazine that I love. It’s “American History” [magazine]. I find that fascinating. I’m also a relative of a president believe it or not really and quite frankly, I just finished a couple of books about [Chester A. Arthur] and there isn’t that much written about him to be honest.
Q: What is your favorite spot in Schenectady?
A: Central Park is an absolutely beautiful part of the city of Schenectady. Very lovely. I did an awful lot to be honest with you for revitalizing downtown. I poured a ton of money into Proctors. I think Proctors was really the first thing to really get people to go downtown.
Q: So, lastly, how do you plan on spending your 91st birthday?
A: Well, my daughter has a place down near St. Petersburg on Treasure Island and I plan to spend it with her, her husband and my granddaughter. I have to live in Florida six months in a year so we can spend four or five months in Niskayuna. I sold my house, but we have an apartment at my daughter’s home in Niskayuna. I also have a summer home on Lake Ontario.
Tyler A. McNeil can also be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected]