The race to succeed state Sen. James L. Seward pits a farmer and agriculture administrator against an Otsego County town supervisor and business owner.
Jim Barber of Middleburgh will face off on the Democratic Party line for the 51st Senate District seat against Peter Oberacker of Schenevus, who is running on the Republican Party line.
The seat is up for grabs this November after Seward (R-Milford) announced he would retire at the end of his term. Seward, first elected in 1986, has been diagnosed with cancer.
“I really miss the pancake breakfasts, festivals and gatherings that are typically part of campaigns, but we need to be diligent about keeping folks safe,” said Barber, but has scheduled virtual town halls and meet-and-greets along with live-streamed conversations with experts and advocates on issues.
Barber, a fifth-generation farmer and former special assistant in the state Department of Agriculture and Markets former state executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency, said there are many issues facing Cortland County. Here’s what he thinks about some of them:
- Reducing taxes: Barber said reducing taxes is an essential issue for his campaign.
“For over 40 years, I have been advocating to fix the unfair and out-of-date property tax system,” he said. “For many rural counties, property taxes are the main source of revenue, yet we know that those taxes have no relationship to someone’s ability to pay them. A small business may have been shut down, or someone may have lost their job due to COVID, but their property taxes are going to stay the same, regardless of whether they have an income.”
“In the meantime, all kinds of loopholes exist for the super-wealthy and those who make their money from financial transactions,” Barber added. “It’s not fair that someone who makes their living through a paycheck or a small business must pay a higher rate than someone who earns money by playing the stock market. The aftermath of the COVID crisis gives us an opportunity to finally fix it and we need to make sure that we have representation in the room with the majority when those decisions are being made.”
- Funding education: Barber said some school districts were financially struggling before the pandemic and they are now facing more financial stress working through it.
“It shows the inherent problems of funding education through property taxes,” he said. “They aren’t alone in the 51st District. The Schenevus school district in Otsego County is also under significant monetary stress. As a former school board member, I will fight for the state to not only make good on its financial obligation to our students, but to take over a bigger share of school funding so that ZIP code doesn’t determine the quality of a student’s education and so that all schools can thrive.”
- Broadband: He said the pandemic has exposed how important broadband service is to the survival of businesses and schools.
“This unfair and completely solvable situation needs to be fixed so our schoolchildren and small businesses can have an equal shot at success,” he said.
Oberacker was elected in 2015 to the Otsego County Board of Representatives and has been Maryland town supervisor and board member.
Oberacker grew up in Schenevus and moved his company, Form Tech Solutions, to Schenevus from Texas in 2017.
Throughout his campaign he has issued news releases related to reopening the state and businesses within the state. On Wednesday he said his campaign has been using every avenue possible to reach out to voters “while adhering to social distancing and health guidelines, to ensure that all involved feel safe.” However, he did not indicate what those avenues were.
He also said many issues affect people in the 51st District.
“As I listen to the people of the 51st District, I often hear the same issues come up: helping our farmers, ending dangerous bail reform and lowering our taxes,” he said. “As New Yorkers leave our state in droves, because of the downstate policies that now control Albany, I know we must change things now.”