Differences over state spending, public health and personal demeanor highlighted the debate of 39th senate district candidates last week
State Senator James Skoufis (D/WFP/SAM) and challenger L. Stephen Brescia (R/C) participated in a debate Thursday evening at the Seligmann Center in the hamlet of Sugar Loaf. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there was no live audience in attendance. The debates were live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube.
The 39th Senate District covers much of Orange County and smaller parts of Ulster and Rockland counties. The Towns of Montgomery, Crawford, Newburgh, New Windsor, Plattekill, Marlborough and the City of Newburgh are part of the district.
Dr. Larry Force, Director of the Center on Aging and Policy at Mount Saint Mary College, was the moderator for the debate. The candidates answered questions pertaining to the economy: justice, equity and social well-being: infrastructure and natural resources: leadership and education.
Skoufis lives in Cornwall and was elected to the State Senate in 2018. Prior to that, he served six years in the State Assembly. He has been endorsed by many groups including the Ulster County Democratic Committee, New York State Young Democrats and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
“The way I do this job, my governing philosophy is I go to the mat for my constituents,” he said. “I go to the mat for my communities. Whether it’s an individual constituent issue, whether it’s a local community issue, whether it’s a state issue, I put every ounce of my fiber and being into the work that I do to make sure that my communities and my constituents are heard both locally and in Albany.”
He noted that the two most important jobs for the next senator will be protecting the public’s health and rebuilding the economy.
Brescia lives in the Village of Montgomery, serving as its mayor since 1990. Since 1994 he has represented the Ninth District in the Orange County Legislature. Brescia has been endorsed by many including the Upstate Jobs Party, the Orange County Republican Committee and Town of Montgomery Supervisor Brian Maher.
“I’m running mainly because I don’t like the direction the state of New York is going in,” he said. “It’s less affordable, it’s less safe and it’s just not a fun place to live. It’s not the Empire State anymore that we grew up with.”
One of the questions regarding the economy asked the candidates how they would attract new businesses. Brescia noted that he would bring in a committee of people who know business. He added that business regulations should be eased.
Skoufis said that he would repurpose economic development money such as local and state dollars to rebuild the state’s small business economy.
“Those are the folks who are leaving in droves and struggling, especially coming out of the pandemic,” he said. “Not enormous warehouses that Steve Brescia rolls out the red carpet for. I’m the candidate that the National Federation of Independent Business has endorsed, one of only two Democrats for State Senate out of 63 races this year in New York and that’s because I stand shoulder to shoulder with our small business economy here in New York.”
Brescia was angered by this statement.
“You picketed Medline and said ‘pay your damn taxes’ and you’re a guy who’s probably been paying taxes three years of your life,” he said.
Skoufis, 33, confirmed that he has been paying taxes his entire adult life.
“The point is I saved your taxpayers, your constituents $10 million with what we did on Medline,” Skoufis said. “You sat silent, you did nothing when a huge corporation was trying to rip off your taxpayers. I stepped in, worked with some of your constituents in the Village of Montgomery and we saved your community $10 million. That’s true leadership, not what you showed during that episode.”
For women to gain more equity in the workplace, Brescia believes they deserve higher wages. He wants to bring in engineering and high-tech jobs, which would give women competitive wages. Brescia said he was proud to have appointed the first two women to the Orange County Industrial Development Agency.
“Two (female appointees) in seven years is nothing to be proud of,” Skoufis retorted. He added that more women need to be empowered to have a presence on boards whether it be corporate, Industrial Development Agency or government.
Skoufis said he favored raising the minimum wage to $15. Brescia said he also favored raising the minimum wage, but not necessarily to $15.
Brescia wants to restore state aid to help universities, community colleges and school districts.
“We need to restore funding to schools and to colleges and make the state of New York pay their fair share of community colleges,” he said.
Skoufis agreed that the state has done a poor job of covering community college costs. He believes that income taxes should be raised on those who make over $5 million a year. This would prevent state aid reductions to hospitals and schools.
The debate, largely a civil exchange, grew testy in the closing minutes.
“Over the next two years I am gonna bring the same professionalism, the same level headedness to the job that I have over the past two and before that the past six in the assembly,” Skoufis said. “I am proud to work with Democrats, Republicans, Independents every single day in this job. I represent everybody. I tolerate dissent”
Skoufis said Brescia has a long history of bullying.
“My opponent literally throws people out of meetings if they dissent with him,” said Skoufis, referring to an ongoing civil lawsuit filed last year by three women who said they were denied the right to speak at a Medline public meeting in Montgomery.
“I’ve only thrown people out of village or county meetings maybe three or four times over the last 30 years, and that’s the truth,” Brescia retorted “He is no leader, I guarantee you that. He has no leadership experience.”
Brescia believes that his experience in government has prepared him to become senator.
“Vote for the person that has leadership ability, has common sense, is gonna take it to Albany and make a difference,” he said.