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Coverage from WRVO Public Media on the 2015 election including: races in Syracuse and other parts of central New York, the Southern Tier, Watertown and the North Country, and more.Listen to WRVO online, or catch up on regional political news and more by following the WRVO news department on Twitter.

GOP candidate favored in special Senate seat race

Bret Jaspers
WSKG News File Photo
A Siena College poll released last week found Republican Fred Akshar with a 72% to 20% lead over Democrat Barbara Fiala in the 52nd district state Senate race.

There’s only one political race Tuesday that directly effects New York state government, and that’s a special election for a state Senate seat in the Southern Tier. The Republican candidate is far ahead.

The Senate seat in Binghamton and surrounding areas is vacant, because its former occupant Tom Libous, who was the deputy Senate majority leader, has been convicted on felony charges of lying to the FBI over obtaining a politically connected job for his son. He is now awaiting sentencing.

The Binghamton-based Senate district has been held by Republicans for the past 100 years, including the former legendary Senate Leader Warren Anderson. And according to polls, it’s likely to remain the hands of the GOP. Republican Fred Akshar, a Broome County deputy sheriff,  is far ahead of the Democrat, former Broome County Executive Barbara Fiala.

Fiala, the older of the candidates at 71, began her campaign expecting the backing of state Democrats, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“I believe I can, with your help, win this district,” she declared to an enthusiastic crowd on July 30.

Cuomo endorsed Fiala, who is also his former Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner, even before her official announcement.

“She is a really quality person of high integrity,” said Cuomo. “She is the kind of person who should be welcomed in state government.”

But since then, the governor has done nothing to help her. Neither he, nor Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, have campaigned with Fiala. And reports there would be $100,000 in assistance fizzled. Fiala has tried to turn the lack of support into a strength, saying she’s “independent."

Akshar, who is 36 years old, has raised over $400,000, nearly half of that coming from the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee. He emphasized his youth when announcing his run for the seat.

“The 52nd district needs a fresh face, fresh ideas, somebody with energy and passion,” Akshar said. “And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Akshar introduced himself to the voters in an ad, where, dressed in jeans, he wielded a chain saw, that he takes from the bed of a pickup truck.

The campaign has been criticized for it’s negativity. Fiala, who ran an ad where she in part made fun of the fact that Aksharused to have a beard, has born the brunt of the blame.

Akshar, who is now clean shaven, says he cultivated a scruffy appearance when he worked undercover.  

Fiala countered that nasty anonymous ads on Facebook falsely saying she backs free college for prisoners, among other accusations, took a toll on her popularity.

The two addressed the tenor of the campaign in a debate on Binghamton’s public television station, WSKG.

“My opponent is the most disingenuous in this room,” said Fiala, who accused Akshar of hiding behind surrogates who spoke for him.  

“I’m not a puppet, I don’t have strings going up and down me,” Fiala said.   

Akshar countered that a Siena College Time Warner poll conducted a week before elections agrees with his perception that it’s Fiala who is more negative.

“Voters agree with me, that I’ve remained positive and on message,” said Akshar. “On a margin of three to one, people think that my opponent has ran a much more negative campaign than I.”

The top issues in the race have been Second Amendment rights and whether Cuomo’s gun control laws go too far, the heroin epidemic, and the economy of a region that is among the poorest in the state.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.