The race for the 54th — more precisely, “The Race to Replace Retiring Mike Nozzolio” — has been heated, contentious at times, and crowded, at one point with more than a dozen potential candidates eventually whittled down to three.
Renowned for bringing the bacon — and lots of state dollars — back to the district, Nozzolio’s shadow will loom over the district and its 300,000-plus residents for a long time. All three candidates made sure to praise the outgoing senator to our editorial board, although Democrat Kenan Baldridge snidely said, “I know a fire department that has one of those big checks for $10,000 but hasn’t seen the money yet.”
Each of the three candidates has strengths.
Baldridge, supervisor in the small Wayne County town of Rose, is deliberate and does his homework; he is big on ethics reform, more local control for school districts and protecting the environment.
Canandaigua Town Supervisor Pam Helming — who won the endorsement of the district’s Republican committees, along with a tight GOP primary — is the most well connected, having the backing of the state Republican Committee; she reduced the property tax rate in her town, no easy feat in this day and age.
Floyd Rayburn, owner of a masonry contracting business that has grown from “a shovel and a wheelbarrow” to 50 employees, is passionate and outspoken, especially when it comes to running a business and telling the government to butt out; he was edged by Helming in that GOP primary but remains on the ballot as the Reform Party candidate.
There are questions about all three too.
Can Baldridge, who comes from one of the smallest towns in Wayne County, effect much change in Albany, especially if Democrats remain the minority party?
Can Helming, who clearly has the backing of downstate Republicans, legislate in an unbiased manner and say no to groups that helped finance her campaign?
Can Rayburn, who has never held public office and has burned some Republican bridges, have enough influence to get things done for the 54th?
One very big question was answered last week when the man for whom this district has become known came out with his endorsement: “Pam Helming is a committed advocate for our community, and I am proud to endorse her for State Senate,” Nozzolio was quoted as saying on a Helming mailer.
By a narrow margin, we like Helming too.
Speaking of doing homework, she has. She has knocked on doors in all corners of the district, listening to residents, which is obvious in some of her policies and concerns. She also has studied the budgets of all six counties in the district, and estimates that 90 percent of those budgets are unfunded state mandates, especially Medicaid.
“We need to reform Medicaid,” she says, adding, “If Albany thinks something is important, then Albany should fund it.”
We like her Upstate Opportunity Agenda, which includes lowering the tax burden on small businesses, reducing regulatory red tape, and streamlining permitting and licensing regulations while cutting down on the duplication of services, something that was especially important to some apple growers in Wayne County with whom she spoke.
The district is home to three of the largest landfills in the state: Seneca Meadows, the Ontario County Landfill, and High Acres in Perinton.
“I don’t think any of the three of us would vote for putting them here,” Helming said, “but they are here” and they have to be dealt with accordingly. She noted that she is the only one of three who has “been tested by having to take a stance” on one of the landfills. When representatives from Casella officials asked to reduce the buffer zone between the liner and bedrock at the Ontario County Landfill from 10 feet to five, Helming was the member of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors who asked that a scheduled vote be laid over so county lawmakers could study the issue more. The request was eventually voted down by a slim margin.
Helming used to work for Casella Waste Management, and some have insinuated that would put her on the side of the landfills, but most don’t realize that she was a regional compliance manager for the company, meaning she knows the regulations and how to make landfills accountable.
“Believe me, the landfills are worried about me getting elected,” she said.
Helming, who says she will be a full-time senator, is in favor of term limits, pension stripping and recall elections. She is big on protecting the lakes and the environment and supporting agriculture while also looking into some processes that have led to chemical runoff in our waterways.
Whoever is elected will be a freshman senator and won’t have nearly the influence that Nozzolio did, especially early. Helming acknowledges that, telling us, “I will not be able to do what he did overnight, but he didn’t do it overnight, either.”
We believe she will grow into the role and provides the best chance to give the district the representation to which it has grown accustomed.