October 20, 2014

Cortland forum draws Assembly candidates


Staff Reporter

Candidates from the 125th and 126th Assembly districts met Saturday morning in a forum sponsored by county agencies to share their views on issues, including reproductive health, education and the environment.
Held at the Elks Lodge on Groton Avenue, residents were able to become more informed on candidates’ views on abortion, fracking and Common Core, specifically.
Common Core, a national program implemented by the state, creates a standard curriculum for schools across the county.
The candidates running for the 125th Assembly District are incumbent Barbara Lifton, a Democrat, and her Republican opponent, Herbert Masser Jr. Both are from Ithaca.
The candidates for the 126th Assembly District are Republican incumbent Gary Finch of Springport and Democrat Diane Dwire of Camillus.
Sarah Waller of Cortlandville and Celeste Schueren of the city of Cortland said they came to support Diane Dwire, whom they used to work with at the state Department of Health. They also wanted to hear candidates’ views on environment, health and education.
“I’m not happy with the education system,” Schueren said Saturday morning before the forum started. “I think the kids are too stressed.”
Schueren hopes the forum will help her on Election Day to choose the best candidate for the job.
“There have been, unfortunately, some Election Days when it’s been ... who’s the least offensive,” she said. “This year, I have higher hopes.”
Sponsored by the Cortland County Women’s Coalition and Cortland County Chamber of Commerce, the community heard the candidates’ responses to questions put to them by the coalition and chamber of commerce.
Alison King, president of Cortland County League of Women Voters, a member of the coalition, moderated the forum, allowing candidates two minutes each to respond to the questions.
Lifton and Dwire say they both agree with the Women’s Equality Act, a proposal not yet passed by the state Legislature. Dwire noted she is adamant about the equal-pay-for-equal-work provision as well as the part about domestic violence protection.
Andrea Rankin, a Cortlandville resident, said reproductive health is important to her, noting she used to run the family planning clinic in Cortland.
“In some ways, it was women versus men,” Rankin said after the forum. “Because ... both of the men, who have never been pregnant, said they wouldn’t support (a woman’s right to choose abortion), and it’s not changing any law, it’s just codifying the federal law.”
Both Finch and Masser said they supported nine of the10 points of the Women’s Equality Act. Finch would not say whether he supported the tenth provision of reproductive health, which would preserve a woman’s right to choose abortion.
“The state Senate, they approved nine points but will not approve the tenth,” Finch said during the forum. “So who’s holding one up?”
Masser said the tenth provision is not necessary and it makes people who object to late-term abortion look like they have a war against women.
“We do not have an agenda against women,” Masser said during the forum. “What I have is an agenda for babies.”
Another controversial topic tackled by candidates Saturday was hydrofracking. It is the process of injecting chemically treated water underground to extract shale gas and has been criticized by some who say that it risks polluting water sources and the environment.
All candidates agreed it is wise to stay away from fracking because it is still unclear whether it will affect drinking water. Dwire and Finch agreed renewable resources should be looked into for energy, and Masser noted fracking should be decided by towns instead of on a statewide basis.
“I would like to see the local legislature make the decision for each local town because they are the ones closest to the voters,” Masser said during the forum.
Fracking was a concern of those who attended and has been a long standing issue with Central New York residents.
Rankin said fracking was also a very important issue for her.
“Why? Because I like to drink water,” she said.
Clay Benedict, city resident, said he will be voting for Lifton because she has always been strong in her opposition to fracking.
“She does the research,” he said after the meeting.
All candidates said they were against the Common Core initiative saying it was implemented too quickly, with Finch noting the focus should be onstandards.
“The bottom line is we must raise our standards to compete with the world, that’s all there is to it,” Finch said during the forum.
Benedict said it is important that candidates stand for education and he is concerned with the evaluation process of teachers under Common Core, noting he is a former educator.
“The evaluation process does not seem fair for the average teacher because if a student comes half way within the year, you’re still graded on that student,” Benedict said.
The forum allowed for questions to be submitted for the candidates, with one question being about concerns with constituent communication.
Janet Steck, a Homer resident, said an open forum is the best way to learn from the candidates because if someone is not on their campaign route or mailing list, they might not get the chance.
“You always feel better informed as a result of this, so I think they are a valuable service to the Cortland County community.”

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