ST. BONAVENTURE — Candidates in the 57th Senate District special election met Tuesday evening in a studio debate at St. Bonaventure University.
Republican George Borrello, the Chautauqua County executive, and Democrat Austin Morgan of Freedom, are seeking to succeed former Sen. Catharine M. Young, R-Olean, who resigned in March after 15 years in the Senate.
Both candidates pledged to carry on Young’s legacy of tirelessly traveling the four-county district and bringing home state funding for school districts and fire departments.
Morgan, of Freedom, at 22 a 2019 Cornell graduate and former State Senate intern, said he was the only candidate with experience in the Senate chamber and as a member of the majority party would have a seat at the table at budget time. He said he would bring a fresh face and new ideas to Albany.
Borrello, also emphasized his working-class roots and success as an entrepreneur before being elected to the Chautauqua County Legislature 10 years ago. He he said he sees his role as calling out radical policies of an oppressive, out-of-control state government. One of his first priorities would be to fight unfunded mandates.
The candidates were questioned by Dr. Richard Lee, executive director of the Jandoli Institute at St. Bonaventure University, and Cameron Hurst, a senior journalism student who is also associated with TAPinto Greater Olean. It was streamed via SBU-TV and will be linked to the TAPinto website soon.
Morgan, who said part of Young’s legacy was bipartisanship, said Borrello’s vitriol with the Cuomo administration and legislative leaders will make it hard for Borrello to work with them.
“I’m standing up for what’s right,” Borrello responded. “I’m speaking out to get things accomplished.”
Borrello said the spotlight he and U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, shined on the poor conditions on the Thruway on the Cattaraugus Territory resulted in the agreement between the state and Seneca Nation to fix the road.
Morgan said he favored amendments to the bail and discovery reforms passed in the State Legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Taking discretion over bail away from judges, for example, “may put some people in harm’s way.”
Those charged with misdemeanors and some nonviolent felonies will no longer be required to post bail.
Borrello was critical of the bail and discovery reforms that will take effect Jan. 1. He called for the bill’s repeal, arguing that the state offered no guidance, no funding and no support for its rollout.
“There were mistakes made,” Morgan admitted. “We need people willing to work together to fix things.”
To reduce population loss, Morgan said the region needs to find some way to keep young people in the area while taking care of seniors. Morgan also said he encourages more students to become involved in skilled trades.
Borrello said he’d propose a first employee tax credit that would help a sole proprietor to hire a first employee.
Both candidates said they would have voted against the state law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain a driver’s license. Morgan noted that before 2001 it was the law in New York state.
Borrello said he was absolutely against it because it could aid voter fraud. It was another example, he said, of the “irresponsible way” the Democratic majority is acting in Albany.
Morgan reminded his opponent that the New York State Business Council supported the bill.
Both candidates also agreed that the Route 219 Expressway should be extended south to Salamanca.
This has been stalled for years, Morgan said. The environmental impact statement is being prepared. A Democrat representing the district could better lobby for state funding, he added.
Borrello said, “Route 219 needs to be completed. The governor has ignored this topic.” He pointed to the work on the Thruway as evidence that he and Reed were successful in shining a light on the issue.
Morgan said it was more like grandstanding on Borrello’s part.
The candidates differed on the state’s march toward legalization of recreational marijuana. Morgan said he supported the first step taken by the Legislature to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. When it is legalized next year, Morgan said he wants to make sure small Western New York farmers get an opportunity to grow it and small businesses the opportunity to sell it.
Borrello said after talking to his county sheriff and district attorney, he can’t support legalization of marijuana until the issue of how to detect impaired drivers can be resolved.
Asked about the SAFE Act, Borrello said he supports outright repeal. “It is a horrible government overreach. Every single Democrat voted for it. I stood up for gun rights.”
Morgan said that a Republican-controlled Senate passed the SAFE Act. Majority Leader John Flanagan, who supported Borello to the tune of $63,000, voted for the SAFE Act. There are some provisions that should be revised, he added.
In closing remarks, Morgan painted himself as “the only candidate with experience in Albany.” Being in the majority party makes him the clear choice, he argued.
He said he would be the youngest state senator in state history. “It’s been too long since the working class had a seat in Albany.”
Borrello cited his strong record as a successful businessman and legislator. “(Morgan) can only tell you what he might do. I can tell you what I have accomplished.”
He said the Democrat-controlled Legislature was “disconnected and out of touch with reality. We can’t sell out to the New York City ruling class for table scraps.”
Morgan is on the Democrat and Working Families Party lines and Borrello is on the Republican, Conservative and Independence party lines.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)