DURHAM — Democratic Greene County Legislator Aidan O’Connor is running to fill the vacant Assembly seat in the 102nd District formerly held by Republican Pete Lopez if a special election is held in April.
There are two vacant Assembly seats in Columbia and Greene counties: the 102nd, held by Lopez until he resigned to become Region 2 Administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency; and the 107th, formerly held by Steve McLaughlin, who was elected Rensselaer County Executive in November.
O’Connor was elected Greene County legislator representing Durham, a seat traditionally held by Republicans, in 2015. Since he took office, O’Connor has become chairman of the Health Services Committee and a member of the County Resources and the Economic Development and Tourism committees.
O’Connor, 29, said he plans to win Lopez’s former seat. O’Connor said he respected Lopez for his enthusiasm and his connection with his constituents the same way he won the seat on the county legislature — a moderate who can compromise.
“I am extremely moderate and willing to cross party lines,” O’Connor said. “I will put the people before politics and be out in the district as much as possible. I would really love to see people come back to the middle; that’s what we really need.”
Good government groups have been pushing for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to call special elections for 11 vacant Senate and Assembly seats before the April 1 deadline for the state budget. Cuomo hinted he would call for special elections after the budget passes, causing local party committees to gear up for a possible special election.
The Greene County Democratic Committee and all other Democratic committees in the 102nd District gave their nod to O’Connor, who will likely end up squaring off against Schoharie Town Supervisor Christopher Tague, the Republican committees’ preferred candidate.
If O’Connor wins, he would be leaving the minority conference in the county legislature for the majority conference in the Assembly.
“I will work with anyone on issues that affect upstate New York,” O’Connor said. “We can work together to help upstate agriculture or economic development. We can focus on getting grant money to solve some of these issues. I will be the first one to open my door for other legislators.”
O’Connor wants to create an environment for economic development — a goal Republicans in Albany can appreciate — by getting rid of unnecessary burdensome regulations.
“You hear a lot of politicians say they are going to create jobs; I do not create jobs, the private sector creates jobs,” O’Connor said, hooking onto a problem of taxpayer flight the state faces more than ever. “With less regulations, we can create an environment that attracts more jobs.
“Most of my friends have moved to Boston or New York City and try to convince me to do the same,” O’Connor said. “I don’t want my friends to leave here anymore, I want this to be where our future is.”
O’Connor will not have to face the tough budget season the state faces this year, with legislators working to figure out how to deal with a $4 billion deficit, but he said his initial thoughts are to cut back on nonessential services spending, if needed.
“I always say I can’t run my house on a deficit,” O’Connor said. “We have to find avenues that do not lead to tax hikes on taxpayers.”
O’Connor said he will advocate for more resources for Emergency Services Agencies and look for ways to legislatively control prescriptions and drug companies as a way to reverse the opioid and heroin epidemic.
Brent Bogardus, chairman of the Greene County Republican Committee, said all the counties that make up the 102nd district chose Tague as the preferred candidate for the seat.
“[Tague] was chosen unanimously by all seven counties in the district,” Bogardus said. “He has experience in both the public and private sectors.”
The Columbia County Democratic Committee and the committees from Rensselaer and Washington counties closed out their application process Monday for those interested in becoming the candidate for the 107th District.
“Three people from Columbia County applied and we have interviewed them,” said Keith Kanaga, chairman of the Columbia County Democratic Committee. “I’m really pleased with that.”
Pamela Kline, a member of the committee who interviewed the three interested people from the county, declined to identify the applicants this early in the game.
Kline was involved in the process of choosing O’Connor for the 102nd district.
“[O’Connor] is very impressive,” Kline said. “[The Columbia County Democrats] will support him in the two towns in Columbia County within that district.”
Assembly District 102 includes the towns of Stuyvesant and Stockport in Columbia County.