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CNY State Sen. Rachel May faces challenge from Onondaga County lawmaker Julie Abbott

Democratic State Senator Rachel May (left) and Republican Julie Abbott (right) are running for the new 48th State Senate District.
Democratic State Senator Rachel May (left) and Republican Julie Abbott (right) are running for the new 48th State Senate District.

Next year there will be two newly drawn State Senate Districts representing Central New York. The new 48th, will spread from the City of Syracuse into the Finger Lake.

For State Sen. Rachel May (D-Syracuse), running for reelection in this district is a new geographic reality, pulling her out of communities east of the city of Syracuse, to the west, into the Finger Lakes. She said she is out and about meeting new potential constituents, pleased that she’ll represent an area where clean water issues are important.

"That’s been great because I found I’ve had really good conversations with people no matter what their political persuasions, we find a lot of common ground on issues," May said. "I’ve been focused on of protection of our fresh water resources.”

Her Republican opponent is Julie Abbott, an Onondaga County legislator from Skaneateles, who agrees on the importance of clean water issues locally, but finds the state cash meant to help often doesn’t get where it’s needed.

“The level of bureaucracy that comes out of New York State absolutely disincentives our lake associations and groups that want out to get those grants, because by the time you applying jump through all the bureaucracy and the hopes New York State wants you to do, it costs more money than the grant’s actually worth,” Abbott said.

There are actually three people on the ballot for the 48th; Attorney Justin Coretti won a Conservative primary by a slim margin in August, complaining that Abbott is not far enough to the right for the party. But he has not been actively campaigning. Just where Abbott stands on the political spectrum has been fodder for some political advertising out of Albany this month. One flier describes her as allied with the “radical Conservative Party.” May defends the tactic.

“So she has been trying to play both sides," May said. "She sought the conservative line, she was angry she didn’t get it. But she says she’s not a conservative, so I do think it’s reasonable to point out that she’s trying to be all things to all people.”

Abbott describes herself as moderate on social issues such as abortion and gun control, and fiscal conservative. She believes her loss in the conservative primary won’t cost her votes.

"I have so many conservative reporters, especially those who live in the city of Syracuse and know Rachel May and are not happy with what she has done," Abbott said. "She is dead last on the state Conservative party rankings of state senators. And she could be their representative.”

On the issues; crime and bail reform rank high on the list of those the candidates clash over. May contends statistics show that the Senate Democrat led bail reform in New York State has reduced crime. She prefers to take on the crime issue by focusing on causes.

"Poverty, mental illness, substance abuse and the extreme prevalence of guns in our society," May said. "So I do believe we as democrats have been doing a lot to fight those root causes of crime.”

Abbott says crime statistics don’t tell the whole story. She said people don’t feel safe anymore.

"To me, you’ve got to stop and say, we’ve made a mistake," Abbott said. "It’s okay, you’re humans, you try to do something good in policy making, but at a time when people are crying out and innocent people are getting hurt and feeling unsafe, it’s time to shift and adjust.”

Another issue were the two clash; recently approved limits on overtime for farm workers. Abbott, said it’s hurting farmers.

"We have limited time to manage the crops and produce what we’re doing, to have them stop working at certain point if they are going to stay afloat." Abbott. "It’s not feasible if they’re going to stay afloat, and if they are going to compete across state lines. Again business unfriendly.”

May believes workers and said she’s worked to make sure the state covers the farmer’s losses.

"We were able to get in the budget to make the farmers whole for paying for overtime, which is being phased in over time," May said. "So it’s not an immediate issue but it is something we have to pay attention to.”

Each brings their own style to the campaign May, who has been part of a progressive movement in the State Senate, said she’s become a successful legislator in part because of the breadth of experience as an educator of Slavic languages and literature, and as a higher education administrator focused on the environment.

"I know my colleagues tell me when I get up to speak on the floor of the Senate they listen because they usually learn something," May said. "So I guess bringing my experience as a teacher to bear, I think all of that is wrapped up in how I do this job.”

Republican Julie Abbott believes her background also offers her the right temperament for the job; willing to be a collaborator and not be a partisan ideologue.

“I’m a journalist by trade, what we do is look at both sides and find the common ground and where does the truth lie," Abbott said. "And this is my wheelhouse. And I’m really, really sick of divisiveness.”

The newly drawn 48th district covers all of Cayuga County and about two thirds of the western and southern parts of Onondaga County, including the city of Syracuse.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.