While the 58th District touches only the southern portion of the Times’ readership area, Yates County is an important cog. Its combination of agriculture, tourism and Seneca and Keuka lakes highlight the region as a whole and help drive the economy.
Republican Tom O’Mara, an attorney with Barclay Damon, is completing his third two-year term as the district’s representative in the state Senate.
He wants to continue upgrading a lagging Southern Tier economy so that future generations will have a reason to stay. He believes manufacturing is the key to that rebirth, pointing to legislation eliminating corporate income tax on manufacturing entities as a step in that direction.
In the Yates County town of Milo, O’Mara helped secure a $450,000 grant to extend a sewer district that will serve the Penn Yan/Yates County Airport. The hope is to grow business on that property and in that corridor, and to attract new enterprises.
O’Mara co-sponsored legislation amending state education law, requiring New York’s schools to test for lead in their drinking water. Aid is available through the state Education Department to reimburse those costs — although the origin of that funding and the amount is bit of a mystery, causing opponents to label it another unfunded mandate.
One of those critics is O’Mara’s opponent, Democrat Leslie Danks Burke. An attorney at Pinnisi and Anderson, she is making her first run at state government after losing a Democratic primary to Nate Shinagawa in the 23rd Congressional District four years ago.
Other than their professional backgrounds, their affection for the Southern Tier and their distaste for the SAFE Act, these candidates have little in common.
Danks Burke said the No. 1 issue she hears from talking to constituents is Albany corruption and the need for ethics reform. She railed against O’Mara for the lack of meaningful changes in that regard, specifically in the areas of eliminating pensions for government officials convicted of corruption, and restricting legislators’ ability to earn outside income.
She feels strongly that education isn’t getting the attention it deserves, insisting the state’s funding formula must change.
Danks Burke said we have to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, instead focusing on renewable and green energy. She is not in favor of Crestwood’s propane storage plans in Schuyler County. Nor does she endorse the reopening of the Greenidge Generation Holdings power plant outside Dresden.
Speaking of that plant, Barclay Damon attorneys helped Greenidge’s parent company, Atlas Holdings, navigate the red tape necessary to reopen the facility. O’Mara said he played no role in any of those developments, yet the mere appearance of a conflict of interest — coupled with the fact he chairs the senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee — is troubling.
When asked if the laws governing corruption and bribery in state government need to be strengthened, O’Mara admitted the convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos have tarnished everyone’s reputation, but added that both were convicted under current statutes.
Take away Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and his aggressive tack on cleaning up state government, and we aren’t sure those convictions ever would have happened.
Danks Burke said she decided to run for state government because she could effect more change than she might have at the federal level. We believe she deserves the chance to follow through on her promise.