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One Democrat. One Republican. Syracuse's Two New Senators Take Their Seats in Albany

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Syracuse area residents will have two new state senators representing them this term. Democrat Rachel May is taking over for 14 year incumbent Dave Valesky in the 53rd senate district and Republican Bob Antonacci is replacing retried State Seantor John Defransisco.

On Wednesday, Antonacci traveled to Albany to be sworn in.

"It's exciting and daunting at the same time.  I have my family with me.  We're excited to see what it's going to be like at our state capital today."

It was his first official trip to Albany as senator, which he compared to a life-changing event like a new job, marriage, or baby.  But Antonacci is also ready to get to work.  He’s already planning an Upstate summit on Economic Development.

"It has to be all hands on deck.  We're continuing to lose population.  Poverty is at an all-time record high.  We have to have all the oars rowing in the right direction.  We have to have accountability for the monies that have been given out, and will continue to be given out."

Antonacci says both sides of the aisle seem ready to provide more oversight.  But where lawmakers, and Central New Yorkers diverge is on the future of I-81. 

"We need to speak with a unified voice.  That's why I've been an advocate of the tunnel-hybrid option.  Yes, it will be a little more expensive.  If we can all agree that this is what's best for Central New York, then the process will be much different."

The state DOT is expected to issue its recommendation this winter.  Another controversial matter being pushed by Governor Cuomo and democrats is the Reproductive Health Act, or RHA, which would update and extend the protections afforded under the Roe v. Wade decision to New Yorkers.  It stands a better chance of passing under the senate’s new Democratic majority.  That includes the area’s other new senator Rachel May.  Antonacci says he’s a no vote.

"Roe v. Wade is not going anywhere.  I think it's a political hot potato that's been ginned up by those using it that way.  It's unfortunate that has to happen.  I will not be supporting the RHA."

By the end of our conversation, Antonacci and his family were within sight of his new workplace. 

"We're here now.  We can see the Capital.  It's exciting, we'll go about our day."


Senator Rachel May campaigned on supporting a woman’s right to choose and feels that the Reproductive Health Act will actually have a chance of being passed this session with a solid democratic majority.  Governor Cuomo is pushing for the measure to be passed during the first 30 days of the legislative session.  May is a co-sponsor and is inclined to think that some republicans are also on board.  However, she feels even if the act passes, ongoing outreach will be necessary to prevent others from having to make a very difficult decision.   

"Many of us have a common goal of reducing the number of abortions.  My belief is you do that by supporting contraception, sex education, making it easier for women to understand the issues and prevent pregnancies in the first place."

May also has her eye on legislation that the Governor vetoed at the end of 2019 to provide workers with bereavement leave.  That's something she would like to review and get a better understanding of the details.

"My inclination is to support that as somebody who went through bereavement, and I know how disruptive it is, and how hard it is to just keep going at your job."

The SUNY Student Assembly raised concerns about tuition increases last week after the Governor declined the state would commit to funding a ratified contract wage increase for Health and Science Center employees.

"I'm keenly aware there are issues with adjunct pay, which is an embarassment.  The SUNY system is underfunded, but private colleges are also struggling."

May says that both she and her colleagues are focusing on ‘election reform’ – including a measure to remove losing candidates from the ballot line following primaries, so voters aren’t confused on Election Day.

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