Grove Header- White.png
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Rachel May and Janet Burman Politely Campaign for Wide-Open 53rd District State Senate Seat

Scott Willis/WAER News and

Many voters in the State Senate’s 53rd District might not know the seat is wide open considering it could help tip the balance of the chamber to the Democrats. 

Both Democrat Rachel May and Republican Janet Burman have led comparatively quiet and polite campaigns, if you don’t include outside advertising.

Dave Valesky bowed out of the race after losing the Democratic primary to May.  She criticized his long affiliation with the Independent Democratic Conference, which often sided with republicans. It disbanded earlier this year.  May says the IDC kept progressive legislation from coming to a vote.

“Like protection for immigrant rights and transgender rights and women’s reproductive rights and for communities that are threatened by the ravages of climate change. We’re this close to passing election reform. New York right now makes it harder to vote and easier to buy influence from politicians than just about any state in the country.”  

But Republican Janet Burman sees it differently.

Janet Burman at Everson Museum children's event

I was very disappointed that Dave Valesky caved to Cuomo’s pressure to disband the Independent Democratic Conference and I was quite alarmed with my opponent’s stand that was so opposed to that type of bi-partisan cooperation in order to get things accomplished for our region.” 

One of the biggest decisions likely to affect the region is what to do with I-81.  Rachel May says a community grid is the way to go.

No one in the senate is standing up for the single, most important thing we can do to assure a brighter future for Syracuse and that is tearing down the I-81 viaduct.”  

She says redesigning the corridor would make it a hub of job creation and development. 

Burman, on the other hand, favors what’s often called a “hybrid” option, using a tunnel to keep traffic flowing through downtown instead of re-routing it to I-481.  


Republican Burman sees an opportunity to turn the state around if she can flip the set to the GOP.  She says high taxes have restricted the economy, increased poverty, and forced families to lower-cost states.

“They want to have a strong social safety net.  They want to maintain roads.  They want to have good jobs.  They want to provide public safety, and they want to protect the environment…all values that are important to us in the northeast.  But the states surrounding us accomplish those goals at a much lower cost and more effectively than New York State does.”

Burman adds the regulatory burden on business is also stifling.  She further hopes to address corruption that’s plagued the legislative and executive branches, which she says contributes to cynicism and low voter turnout.

“The first thing I would to is sponsor legislation that prohibits any entity or individual that does business with the state from making political contributions.  I think that’s paramount to remove any conflict of interest that could occur.”

May has her own ideas about what is going on behind-the-scenes in Albany politics.

“Lately it’s not so much the blatant corruption that we saw 5 or 10 years ago.    Now it’s the slow drip of backroom deals, and betrayal of voters by politicians that think no one is paying attention.”


Rachel May speaks with residents at Clinton Plaza

May expects Albany to do the people’s business, not line their own pockets.  She says that includes the New York Health Act, a single-payer health care system that has passed the assembly, but gone nowhere in the senate.

“The New York Health Act would not only cover all New Yorkers with no lifetime caps, it would also save our cities and towns and counties in Central New York tens of millions of dollars in health costs.”

But Burman says it’s part of an expensive, problematic agenda.

“They want single payer health care, which will double our income taxes in the short run.  They want to push for broader coverage of abortion.”

May says the senate is overdue to protect reproductive rights for women, transgender communities, and immigrants, but not in the extreme ways some campaign ads might suggest.

“Seventy, 75 percent of people polled are in favor of most of the issues I’m in favor of.  I’m not some kind of fringe extremist candidate.  That’s not where I’m coming from.”

The two do find agreement in at least one area:  education funding.  Both say the state funding formula has hurt the region’s schools. 

Next Tuesday's election will defintely bring change to the 53rd District Senate seat, with the incumbent out of the picture.  The result will also play a role in control of the body, which extends to legislation on just about every issue in the increasingly polarized statehouse.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at