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121st Assembly rematch pits experience against change

WRVO News/Bill Magee for Assembly
Town of Brookfield Supervisor John Salka is challenging Democratic Assemblyman Bill Magee in a rematch from 2014, which was decided by fewer than 2,000 votes.

Voters in Madison, Otsego and Oneida Counties will once again face a choice between long-time Assemblyman Bill Magee and Republican John Salka. In 2014, Salka came the closest to unseating the 13-term incumbent in 20 years. 

Magee was first elected to the Assembly in 1990. He says he is proud of what he has achieved for the 121st District and New York farmers during that time. Magee attributes part of that success to the alliances he has developed with downstate Democrats.

"They come to me when there’s a rural issues out there," Magee said. "Lobbyists tell me that they go into the down city assembly person’s office and if they have a question for them on rural New York, they quite often respond to the lobbyist, 'What does Bill Magee think?'"

Magee chuckles at the notion that he is powerful, just modestly saying he gets the job done. But the 77-year-old assemblyman is part of the Democratic majority in the chamber and chairman of the Assembly's agriculture committee. That has helped him pass initiatives like a two percent cap on annual farm tax assessments and funding to invest in the next generation of farmers.

And Magee thinks the 121st District is better off for his work. He said his office is successful in helping with constituent services and in securing resources for local initiatives, like helping the Oneida Fire Department get a grant to help its trucks control traffic lights. Compare that, Magee says, to his opponent. 

"My experience of being there, my knowledge of the Assembly and what it can do and can’t do and I guess seniority would be a lot," Magee said. "The other thing of course is my going there as a majority member is a plus as compared to him as a freshman member of the minority." 

Salka, who serves as the town of Brookfield's supervisor, admits that Magee's experience in Albany is an asset, but he says it can also be a liability. Salka claims that Magee supported former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was convicted of corruption, on multiple occasions. He says that connection to New York City legislators has led Magee to support downstate initiatives like the increase in the minimum wage.

"If you look at Mr. Magee’s voting history shows a strong connection to downstate and we all know that there’s a wide chasm between ideologies on how things should run in upstate compared to downstate," Salka said.

With renewed calls from the public for ethics reform, Salka says it's time to make several changes.

"If we keep the same old guard, the same people running the show, if we keep that 96 percent incumbency rate Albany enjoys every election we’re not going to make any changes that are needed to be able to bring about a better quality of life for the people of New York state," he said. 

Despite their differences, Magee and Salka agree on several issues. They both support repealing the SAFE Act, are in favor of ethics reform proposals like requiring legislators convicted of felonies to forfeit their pensions and want to reduce some of the regulations plaguing small businesses.

The race between Magee and Salka was decided in 2014 by fewer than 2,000.