Thomas O’Mara and Leslie Danks Burke agree that a governor with executive privilege — as New York’s Andrew Cuomo has had for seven months — is not a good thing.
“The executive in New York state has more power than just about any governor in the country,” said Danks Burke, a Democrat who is challenging O’Mara, the Republican incumbent, for a two-year term representing the 58th District in the State Senate, an area that includes all of Yates County. “We are supposed to have checks and balances.”
The candidates also share the belief that constituents in the district do not get their fair share from the state.
“An ongoing one-size-fits-all approach by state government, driven by downstate interests, will be devastating to the upstate economy, taxpayers, workers and families, public safety, and upstate communities overall for a generation,” said O’Mara, who has yet to lose in eight elections for state Assembly and Senate positions; he was opposed in four of those runs for the Legislature.
However, O’Mara and Danks Burke agree on little else — as evidenced by the essays each wrote that were published in the Oct. 24 edition of the Times.
“It is critical to maintain a two-party system, with a strong process of legislative checks and balances, to ensure that a region like ours has a voice in the decision-making coming out of Albany,” O’Mara said. “Right now, too many of those decisions strongly reflect the fact that New York state is controlled by one party, with downstate-based majority parties and leaders, and an overall extremely liberal philosophy of government.”
O’Mara was alluding to the fact both houses of the state Legislature are controlled by a Democratic majority.
Danks Burke countered by noting the current Democratic trifecta — a term that means the governor’s office, state Senate and Assembly are controlled by the same party — has not been the norm during O’Mara’s 16 years in state government.
“If you can’t get anything done, why are you there?” she asked. “Stand up and get something accomplished. You had 14 years, until 2018, with a majority in the state Legislature to get things done. It’s time to let somebody else take a shot.”
Danks Burke gave O’Mara his stiffest Senate challenge four years ago, garnering more than 50,000 votes, including the usual domination in Tompkins County — its county seat, Ithaca, is a Democratic hotbed. O’Mara won every other county in the district that year by varying margins en route to a 10,782-vote triumph overall. He received nearly 55% of the vote.
O’Mara routed Amanda Kirchgessner by a wider margin in 2018, picking up nearly 60% of the ballots.
“I decided to do it again because the 55,000 people who voted for me in 2016 didn’t go away,” said Danks Burke (she received 52,488 votes in 2016). “The problems are still there, the lack of funding to the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes and the exceptionally high property taxes we’re paying. My opponent has done nothing about it. Voters need to stop making the same choices.”
In her most recent press release, Danks Burke said more than 1,800 individual donors have given to her campaign, bringing her total fundraising to nearly $500,000. She has railed on O’Mara’s money-raising efforts often, saying only 24 “real people” have donated to his campaign, and that most of the incumbent’s money has come from various special interests.
She also filed a complaint with the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics, claiming O’Mara has violated rules related to campaign mailings.
Since losing four years ago, Danks Burke founded Trailblazers PAC, an organization that, according to its website, challenges “leaders of any party to act better than our broken money-in-politics system.” It has grown into a nationwide movement, with its ongoing objective to fund local-level candidates throughout the country who “stand up for honest government.”
“Fixing corruption fixes everything,” she said. “If we can get the money out of government we can fix all of the problems we have.”