Assemblywoman Addie Russell defends her position against conservative challengers
When voters go to the polls in the 116th Assembly District, it will be a referendum on Democratic incumbent Addie Russell who is running for her fourth term.
The so-called River District covers western Jefferson County and northern St. Lawrence County. Republican challenger John Byrne and Conservative candidate Russell Finley say Russell's yes vote on the controversial SAFE Act shows her views conflict with those she represents.
Addie Russell, who lives in Theresa, has been the 116th district's assemblywoman for the past six years. Her message to voters is basically, you know me.
"You know that I'm a hard worker," she said. "You know that I fight for my family, friends and neighbors. I want to continue to do that for the North Country."
Russell and her opponents attended a candidate forum this week. She reminded the crowd that she took office in 2008, during the country's crippling recession. She says she has fought hard to keep jobs and attract new ones to the North Country, to better fund its schools and revitalize downtowns.
Whether Russell's record put hers at an advantage or a disadvantage depends on who you talk to. While she voted for the SAFE Act, she says she disagrees with the way Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed the bill through. But she said voting yes on the controversial gun legislation was the responsible thing to do.
“I stand here willing to make common sense amendments that make the bill workable, which allows me the opportunity to discuss those issues with my colleagues in Albany,” Russell said.
Her Republican opponent John Byrne has promised a full repeal of the law if he were to take office.
"The United States Supreme Court will most likely throw this law out. It is unconstitutional," Byrne said. "I'm a veteran. I fought for our freedom. Serving to protect our freedoms and then passing a law that restricts them would be a heartbreaker for me."
Byrne is a businessman and an Army veteran who came to the North Country by way of Fort Drum. He now lives in Cape Vincent and has been a member of the town council there for three years.
He is running on a platform that highlights the work he has done to bring jobs to the area through his plastics business and as vice chairman of the local development organization.
"We brought an aluminum boat building manufacturing business to the area," Byrne said. "They are currently employing about 35 people and doing a bang up job. I'd like to do more of that in this district."
Like Addie Russell, he says he will fight to make sure downstate money is used to fund North Country schools and do away with the Common Core. Byrne also says he'd like to control the spending in Albany and cut taxes to keep the middle class from being squeezed.
Russell Finley, a beef farmer and the Conservative Party candidate in the race, agrees.
"New York state taxes are too high. We need to cut the taxes," Finley said.
And Finley says he'd propose a property tax freeze to help struggling farmers.
"When I started farming 20 years ago, my taxes were $4,000. Now they are $12,000," said Finley. "My property tax is higher than my mortgage, principle taxes and insurance twenty years ago. It's taxes that are killing the farm."
All three candidates said they'd fight to bring more attention to Fort Drum and support missile installation on the base.