Voters going to the polls in the state senate’s 50th district Tuesday have a decision to make, and John DeFrancisco isn’t one of them. The retiring senator’s name is not on the ballot for the first time since 1992. Instead, voters will choose either Onondaga County Comptroller Republican Bob Antonacci or Democrat John Mannion. Mannion is a high school science teacher making his first run for public office. He sees a broken system that needs to be fixed.
“We’re at a crossroads, I believe, a crossroads where we need desperately, to get people form a variety of different backgrounds, who have not been corrupted by the political system, who are not concerned with political incumbency or climbing up the political ladder. We absolutely need it because I think we are desperate, many of us, to hold on to our democracy.”
Antonacci agrees change is needed, but for different reasons. The Onondaga County Comptroller says jobs and the economy are on the minds of residents.
“A woman came up to me in the Wegmans parking lot, she says ‘My kids have no opportunity to come back here to work, two out of my three kids are living outside of the state.’ We’ve got to change this, we’ve got to change it.”
IN RESPONSE TO CORRUPTION
Both candidates are also concerned about the lingering impact of recent corruption scandals. Mannion says it starts with campaign finance reform.
“We definitely have to get the big money out of politics. My suspicions are correct in that never doing this before and seeing how much money is involved, and what big business politics is. It’s horrible. Really, it’s horrible. And we are this far down the road, we need legislation to make sure that that stops. It’s very hard to run for office if you’re not embedded in the process.”
Mannion says outside income for elected officials should be banned, but Antonacci has opposed a similar measure in Onondaga County. Still, he agrees campaign finance reform and term limits are overdue.
“We have to change the way we do business because we’ve lost the faith of our residents. They just don’t believe that state government has their back.”
RETAINING OR GAINING MAJORITY
This race could help the senate retain its GOP majority, or switch control to the democrats. Antonacci says the latter scenario could lead to billions in additional taxes.
“When the New York City democratic machine controls the senate – if for some reason they do after November 6th— we will be in trouble. What they did in 2008 and 2009 was a disaster. We need to make sure that there’s some accountability and it starts with checks and balances between the two parties.”
But Mannion, drawing from his experience in the education field, says the senate’s republican majority has blocked several pieces of what he calls common-sense legislation.
“The teacher evaluation change that was proposed in a bill and passed through the assembly hit 55 co-sponsors for the senate, out of 63, and that never hit the floor. And that has all to do with big money, charter school donors, who are influencing the majority.”
HEALTHCARE, TAXPAYERS, & REELECTIONS
Mannion also supports the New York Health Act, which has also repeatedly passed the assembly but not the senate. The measure would create a state-wide single payer health insurance system, which Antonacci says would cost billions.
“We certainly need to fix healthcare, but I don’t think we throw it all out right now. There are about a million New Yorkers that are uninsured. There’s about 19 million that are. We can make it more affordable for those 19 million while bringing on those other million through reform, through dissecting the true cost drivers of insurance, working with our hospitals and working with our doctors.”
Antonacci says there are too many special interests in Albany, but he says he wants to lobby for the taxpayers.
“Have you ever heard of the Taxpayer First LLC or Fighting for the Taxpayers’ Future? None of those groups exist because the taxpayers just rely on their elected official. They still, with whatever’s left, may have some faith in the system. I’m there fight for that taxpayer. They don’t have a lobbyist, they don’t have a PAC.”
Mannion says part of the problem of money in politics lies with entrenched career politicians and gerrymandering. He says a map of the 50th senate district, for example, surrounds the city of Syracuse, except for a few slivers.
“It is the epitome of what is wrong in politics. Those maps are all about getting reelected. They have nothing to do with a truly representative government for the people who live in those areas. The lines are not drawn to represent people with common interests, they’re drawn to make sure the person in office gets reelected.”
Both Mannion and Antonacci favor term limits. For now, voters in the 50th district will determine just who gets elected to his first term in the state senate. Polls are open until 9 p.m. Be sure to join us Tuesday evening for complete election coverage from NPR and WAER following the basketball game sometime after 9:30.