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May or Burman: Who will better represent upstate in CNY state Senate race?

Republican Janet Burman, left, and Democrat Rachel May on the Campbell Conversations.

Central New York Democratic State Sen. Dave Valesky, first elected in 2004, was one of six members of the former Independent Democratic Conference to lose in primaries this year. That has opened the 53rd Senate District seat up to Democrat Rachel May, who defeated Valesky, and Republican Janet Burman, both of whom live in Syracuse. The winner will move the district from the center to either a more progressive or conservative ideology.

May works at Syracuse University in sustainability education and she said she wants to bring her problem solving skills to Albany. She said she is not running as a far-left Democrat, but rather as a bold Democrat.

Credit NYS Senate
The 53rd Senate District includes most of Syracuse, all of Madison County, and parts of Onondaga and Oneida counties.

“Dave Valesky talked about the same issues that I talk about, but I really want to be a champion for them,” May said.

Part of upstate Republicans’ strategy for winning in the legislature is appealing to voters by being a check to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and downstate Democrats. But May said upstate issues would not be diluted if Democrats take the Senate.

“Better funding for education is an upstate issue," May said. "Health care is an upstate issue. Addressing poverty is an upstate issue. Infrastructure is an upstate issue. There are a lot of things that Democrats care about that I think upstate will benefit from.”

May is pushing for single-payer health care, which is one of the reasons why Onondaga County Republican Chairman Tom Dadey has called her a radical extremist. But Burman, an economist, has stayed away from that kind of rhetoric.

“Rachel and I are endeavoring to have a positive upbeat campaign," Burman said. "We’re both trying to set an example for the rest of the world. I’ve been known throughout the community for my ability to work with people from all perspectives.”

Burman said the importance of Republicans maintaining the state Senate, cannot be overemphasized. One race could flip control to the Democrats, who Burman said heavily represent New York City, while Republicans represent areas across the state.  

“We stand in the best position to advocate for upstate and press the priorities that we are concerned with here, which include my first priority, which is eliminating the barriers to our having a prosperous economy here in central New York,” Burman said.

Burman said that means addressing the state’s high taxes and government inefficiencies. She said not facing an incumbent increases her chances of winning. But Democrats have an enrollment advantage in the 53rd Senate District, which includes most of Syracuse, all of Madison County, and parts of Onondaga and Oneida counties. 

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.