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John Mannion and Rebecca Shiroff on the Campbell Conversations

Senator John Mannion / Rebecca Shiroff
Senator John Mannion / Rebecca Shiroff

On this week's episode of the Campbell Conversations, Grant Reeher hosts a debate between Senator John Mannion and Rebecca Shiroff. They're both running for state senate in New York's redrawn 50th Senate District.

Program Transcript:

Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations. I'm Grant Reeher. My guests today are the two major party candidates for state Senate in New York's redrawn 50th Senate district. The incumbent is Democrat John Mannion, who has represented the district since 2020. And his Republican challenger is Rebecca Shiroff, a program analyst for Onondaga County's Office of Economic Development. The new 50th district will contain a horseshoe of Onondaga County towns surrounding the city of Syracuse, Camillus, Geddes, Cicero, Clay, Salina, DeWitt and Manlius. It also contains the southern portion of Oswego County, including the cities of Oswego and Fulton. Now, this is a debate of sorts more of a shared conversation, emphasizing contrast. I'll ask the questions and moderate and make sure each candidate has a chance to make their points. I've asked both candidates to be brief, given that we only have a half hour. And as always, I wish we had more time for these kinds of discussions. But State Senator Mannion and Ms. Shiroff, welcome to the program.

John Mannion and Rebecca Shiroff: Thank you / Thank you for having us.

GR: You bet. Well, thanks for making the time. So, Ms. Shiroff I'll start with you. And again, if you could be brief on this, but, make the case for not returning Senator Mannion to the state Senate.

RS: Well, I'm going to assume that Mr. Mannion has done the best he can. It just has not been enough. Crime is out of control. Residents of the 50th district continue to struggle to pay for groceries and gas. More comprehensive solutions are required. We need to improve the lives of our neighbors. And unfortunately, thus far, his efforts have fallen short.

GR: And Senator Mannion, again, briefly make the case for the voters returning you to office.

JM: Well, I'm proud to represent the area I've lived here my entire life. And I feel like I'm a good reflection of the district that I represent. I listen to everybody, all sides of every argument. And on certain issues, including criminal justice reform, I listen to people. I talk to the district attorneys, talk to the sheriffs, talk to the people advocating and we did make adjustments to some of that legislation. I was a very strong voice in that to increase crimes that were bail eligible and also give judges greater discretion when it comes to the issue of making sure people can get by. We suspended three taxes and they were really driven by upstate voices, including my own voice. And that keeps dollars in people's pockets. And I look forward to sharing more as we move through the, you know, this presentation.

GR: Okay, great, thanks, Senator. I'm going to stick with you and then we'll come back to Ms. Shiroff. And I do want to get into the issue of crime, but I also want to ask a different question now, and that's, New York State is perennially at the top for tax burden and spending among the fifty states. I mean, it ranks right up there, whether it's one, two or sometimes three. And this year the state set another record for state spending. So I want to just think about that for a minute and then place that against the fact that the state has also lost in the last two censuses. It's lost three congressional seats. So we're losing population relative to the rest of the country. So I want to know if your party, if the Democrats have any plan for bending this curve significantly or even trying to reverse it. You mentioned giving the three tax cuts back, and that was from upstate voices. But when you look at the overall picture of New York State, it's very clear that, you know, we spend a lot relative to other states and people are leaving the state.

JM: Right. Well, Grant, thank you for the question. You know, we have robust services here in New York State. We really do. We have put a lot into our public education system. We put a lot into our higher ed system. We put a lot into our health care institutions as well. And, you know, when we face something like what we've been in the midst of here for two years in a pandemic, New York State handled that very well. They really did. But I'm a central New Yorker my entire life. I've knocked on the doors and I've listened to people, and they do have their concerns of course, about property taxes and other taxes. And that is a number one issue for me. And when we did three things quickly, which was suspended the gas taxes that we had to control and gave the counties the ability to suspend theirs, we accelerated the middle class tax cuts here in New York State. And we also provided property tax relief, even though that property tax, you know, is, comes in to municipalities and districts. So, but to go back to your question, I would say this, we want to make sure that we provide world-class education for our children. And I, I saw my own children benefit from that. We have a tremendous university system as well that is very low cost where you can go forward with almost any career possible in the SUNY system. And then we do have public health care institutions, our largest employer in the area. And we need to continue to support those. Additionally, we addressed issues like the child care crisis and the state of New York in the last two years did two big things. Number one, they expanded the level of income to receive a subsidy so that you can utilize child care. And then also we gave child care institutions that already exist, and the potential for new ones, dollars to make sure that they are, have the ability to either be established or grow larger. So these are these are the things that yes, you know, we need to make sure we're focusing on the right things. I believe that we are in many ways. And then also, you know, we have this major chip plant deal that's coming through. And I do believe that part of the reason that they chose central New York is because the robust services that we can provide.

GR: Okay, and Ms. Shiroff, I wanted to ask you a question on the same topic here, but frame it a little bit differently. It's certainly the case that your campaign and other Republican campaigns are hitting on the issue of the state budget and state spending and taxes pretty hard. And there's a point to be made there. And we've just been talking about it. The challenge for the Republicans, I think, and their argument is to figure out what they would cut in order to get the budget more under control, because analyzing this from the standpoint of waste, fraud and abuse just doesn't - I don't think it's going to move the dial as far as some would like to see it move. So could you talk a little bit about if you were to go to Albany, what kinds of programs would be under your microscope for trying to pare back? And how would you be looking to rein in the state spending?

RS: So first off, I appreciate what Mr. Mannion is saying, but the fact is that people are still leaving. You know, we've lost over 1 million residents over the last decade. We know there's wasteful spending. We plan on looking into every program and department to determine the best way to save the taxpayers money, because all elected officials, I mean, we have a fiduciary responsibility. And I know this better than anyone having been a small business owner. As far as the gas tax, you know, it was a half measure by Mr. Mannion because when it came time to completely suspend it, he was against that and then came back with a 50% decrease and that's just not enough. You know, this is comprehensive, it's not something that I can give a brief answer to, but I can definitely tell you that I am going to take my time to look into everything I possibly can to see what else we can do to bring some relief. We just have to.

GR: And as a follow up to that, and I want to give Senator Mannion a chance to talk about that gas tax cut since you brought it up. But one of the really big places where the state spends considerably more on a per capita basis, than even another liberal state like California is the Medicaid program. We have the largest Medicaid program spending wise, by a long shot in the country. Is that something that you'd want to look at, paring back in some way?

RS: I would say no. I don't think that we can cut anything out of the Medicaid program. Those are important, you know, they're important services. But I think that there are definitely other ways that, you know, we can affect change. And that would be to look into all of the other, you know, programs and departments and see where there are inefficiencies. We all know that there's a tremendous amount of wasteful spending and it's going to take some time to look at everything and come up with a comprehensive plan. You know, it's there's redundancy, there's just there's too many things that we are spending so much money on. And obviously, Medicaid is one that's incredibly important that, no, we cannot touch that. I would not go anywhere near that.

GR: Okay, all right. Thanks for that. So, Senator Mannion, why didn't you go for a full gas tax relief and take the half measure? What's your explanation for that?

JM: So there are really three taxes on gasoline that come from New York State. There is additional taxes that are federal as well. But we suspended two of those taxes. We suspended the sales tax and we suspended the prepaid tax on motor fuel. And diesel. We had conversations with the convenience stores about the third tax. And what the third tax is, is a business tax. It's a petroleum business tax that, according to the convenience stores who I have a great relationship with and others, that it is a very complicated tax and it happens on the previous end, it happens ahead of time, not on the consumer end. And that was due to the advice of the convenience stores. That challenge was too great to get that correct. We did also give the counties and other municipalities the authority to suspend their gas taxes. And many of them, including, you know, our one of our counties here in Onondaga, did not fully suspend their gas tax as well. So there are individuals that are concerned about the revenue that is lost and some of that revenue is dedicated to the maintenance of our roads and bridges. So, you know, that that certainly was a concern as well. But it was really the difficulty in enacting the suspension of that tax, which was part of the conversation that was occurring.

GR: Okay, thank you for that. Ms. Shiroff, I’ll come back to you with this. If you're elected, you'll be facing likely supermajorities of Democrats in the legislature. I mean, there may there may be some movement in the state Senate, but it's really impossible to imagine that the assembly will flip through to Republican. And the odds are we're looking at the polls that you'll have a Democratic governor to work with as well. So, could you just talk a little bit about the strategy that you'll employ for effectively representing the 50th districts’ interest from a minority position, because it's likely that that is what you will be in one way or another.

RS: Well, first off, I'd like to say that I appreciate what Mr. Mannion was saying, but the reality of the matter is that he should have been talking to constituents, not convenience stores. But going back to what you were asking me as far as the Senate, I think that we actually have a pretty good chance of breaking the supermajority. I really do. I am one that can definitely work with the other side. I have always been one to do what is best for the people, for example. And I know how it is to work with the Democrats. For example, one of the members of my team is a registered Democrat, and I challenge Mr. Mannion to tell me how many Republicans he has on his team. So that in and of itself shows that I can work with the other side. I am willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that we are doing what is best for our constituents, and it's going to take compromise. And if that's one thing that I know how to do, it's compromise. As long as it’s what is the best thing for the constituents of the 50th district. Because they will always be my main priority, number one.

GR: You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher, and my guests are State Senator John Mannion and Rebecca Shiroff. They're the two major party candidates for state Senate and the new 50th district. Senator Mannion is the Democrat and Ms. Shiroff is the Republican. Senator Mannion, a different issue now, but one of the Democratic talking points in the state of New York from the governor on down is abortion rights. But the Dobbs decision doesn't affect abortion access in New York State. I mean, New York State remains one of the most liberal states on this issue. So why has this been such a point of emphasis for Democrats in state races? Why are they talking about this at this level?

JM: I would just stay on the issue and the conversations that I've had with constituents, which is that they are supportive of the woman's right to choose overwhelmingly in this area and are honestly shocked and concerned that the Dobbs decision occurred and Roe v. Wade was overturned. So in New York State, prior to me being in office and then also when I was in office, there were protections put in place in law, codified into law to protect a woman's right to choose and to protect those providers. Additional legislation was passed as there were rumors that the Dobbs decision would be overturned. And then following we passed the Equal Rights Amendment which allows for some protection, but then other things as well within that amendment that will come before the legislature again and then will come up for a vote at some point in a November date. But a woman's right to choose it choose is widely supported in this area. And honestly, very disturbing to the constituents that I speak with, both female and male. And we really have fewer rights potentially for our daughters and our granddaughters than of the women that are around today that had that right. Things can change very quickly in this country. My opponent is endorsed and supported by the Conservative Party of New York. And their position is very clear. It is very black and white that they do not support a woman's right to choose even in the most extreme instances of rape and incest. And that is why our rights that women hold in this state must be preserved. And we cannot emphasize that enough. There are people watching what's happening around this country with horror as women lose that fundamental right.

GR: Okay, thank you. And Ms. Shiroff, I wanted to ask you a question on this topic too. I read your web site and it contains an extremely heartfelt discussion of abortion. But I left the reading of that unclear just what your position is on it. And Senator Mannion just suggested what your position might be because the Conservative Party has endorsed you. But I want to give you the opportunity. Can you clarify what your position is on how you would be approaching abortion access in New York State? Would it be just to leave things alone in the state on this issue, or would you be open to trying to restrict and regulate abortion access in New York more than it currently is? If you could just explain to me exactly what your position is on this.

RS: So first off, I find it extremely insulting that Mr. Mannion believes that I'm incapable of independent thinking. He also sends out a very egregious flier about me where he made an assumption about what I thought and how I felt. And I can tell you that as a woman who has children, which I believe, you know, gives me a little bit more merit when it comes to this issue, I realize that it's a very personal and complex issue, and it's not black and white how Mr. Mannion wants to make it, it's just not. I've given it a lot of thought, and I can tell you that without a doubt, I do not believe that abortion should be used as birth control in a country where we have readily accessible contraception, including at Planned Parenthood. I'm always hearing about how Planned Parenthood isn't just about abortion. They're absolutely correct. They also have contraception there. So I believe that we should be using contraception, not using abortion as birth control. However, there are situations where I personally have had friends that have had to make that heart wrenching decision because they had either a fetus that was not viable or, you know, I personally don't know any women that have been raped or, you know, a 12 year old that, you know, was a victim of incest and is now pregnant. I mean, there are certain situations where I absolutely believe that a woman has to make that decision, and it's a decision that is not made lightly, obviously, it can, you know, it can affect the rest of your life. And I'm thrilled that, you know, Mr. Mannion will never be forced to make such a horrible decision. And I honestly, I would not touch the New York state law. I wouldn't touch it. So the fact that he made that assumption about me I found extremely disturbing as a woman and insulting, quite frankly.

GR: Let me ask you a quick follow up here. So I just want to make sure that I'm understanding what you're saying. You would leave the law alone. So that means that in New York State, a woman could have an abortion if she chose to do so. Let's just take the first trimester to make it simple, regardless of how she got pregnant. New York State law protects that. So you're in favor of leaving that law in place. But if I understand you correctly, at a personal level then, you think that is a difficult decision and that's something that that that is a different kind of thing for you. And I understand that. But I just want to make sure that you're saying you'd leave that law alone and those women would have that access then?

RS: Yes, I would leave that law.

GR: Okay, all right, thank you. So I want to come back to crime and I'll stick with you, Ms. Shiroff because you brought it up. And Senator Mannion did provide some specifics of what the state legislature did in response to what was a pretty strong public outcry against the original bail reform. But on the issue of crime, what would you be wanting to see the state do differently than it's currently doing right now to try to lower violent crime? Because that is the crime that is most people are concerned about right now. What kind of initiatives would you take?

RS: Well, first of all, I think bail reform needs to be repealed. The original intent was noble. The problem is that it's now a blanket. And, you know, there are so many egregious crimes that are being committed that we have a revolving door of criminals committing crimes, going in and coming back out and then recommitting crimes, and that's just not acceptable. The problem for me isn't just that the bail reform policies that Mr. Mannion has supported aren't working. I think the biggest issue is that he didn't have the foresight or the flexibility to see these problems coming or pivot and improve the policy when it became clear that this legislation was hurting our residents in the 50th district, I've had the privilege of getting to know, Connie Tuori’s niece… wonderful woman. And believe me when I tell you they know far better than any of us that these policies have had catastrophic consequences.

GR: Just remind us, remind our listeners very briefly who Connie Tuori is.

RS: Connie Tuori is the elderly woman that was killed, well, I hate to say it, she was viciously tortured and killed because I learned the story directly from her niece. And I almost wish I had never heard it because I can never unhear it. It was pretty horrible. But this woman was murdered in her own home by a repeat offender. This is a woman who traveled the world by herself, lived in some of the most dangerous places in the world when it was unheard of for women to do. And she was viciously tortured and murdered in her own home. And I promised them that I would do anything I could possibly do to ensure that no other family has to endure the heartbreak that they did. I mean, it's one of the reasons I entered this race, quite frankly.

GR: So I want to just push you a little further here. The specific thing you mentioned was to repeal bail reform. Are there other things that you would want the state to be taking an initiative on to try to lower crime, as there are any specific proposals that you're putting forward?

RS: I mean, obviously, I think that the list of crimes has to be changed because there are people that are getting away with some pretty egregious crimes. Way more judicial discretion. I think we have to look at the mental health issue because I think that that plays a huge role in crime and we're not doing nearly enough when it comes to that. So and, you know, there are several other issues that if we sit here and we really dig deep, there are things that we can do now to do something about this. You know, for example, poverty, which is directly related to inflation. I mean, there's a host of things that we can be doing right now. That can affect change. But for me, the most important one, the most important one is repealing bail reform, bar none.

GR: Okay, thank you. And well, I want to save just a couple of minutes here at the end, and we are getting close to the end, Senator Mannion, but I want to give you a chance to both respond to that. But then if there are initiatives that you would like to take that the state hasn't taken and you'll be pushing If you're reelected, what would those be? If you can do that in about a minute.

JM: I'll do my best. I'm proud to be supported by the New York State Troopers PBA and the PBA’s of New York State. They know that I listen and that I am a voice to make sure that we give them all the tools necessary to do their jobs. I will say also that the criminal justice reforms happened prior to me being in office, and I have only strengthened the tools and made reforms that emboldened law enforcement and judges and district attorneys to be able to remand and hold people on bail. I also helped to create, it was my bill that established a new police force at the Airport Authority that I just stood at an event today with Assemblyman Stirpe to raise the level of income that retired officers can earn. And I've supported SRO’s. So in my time in office, what did I do? I listened to all those stakeholders, and I was a very loud voice in making sure that, number one, judges do have greater discretion, doesn't hit the media all the time. But this was enacted in June that we made more crimes bail-eligible, that we addressed the re-offending issue, that we put harsher penalties on gun trafficking and that we are obtaining data from the judiciary to make sure that judges are holding people on bail when they can. And they understand the law and there's additionally training for those judges that was in the new legislation, the example that was presented previously also, the judge did have the ability to hold that individual and they did not. And we are left with a horrific crime that never should have occurred.

GR: Now, I believe you are right on that final issue there. We have about a minute, a little more than a minute left. So I want to try to squeeze this last set of questions in and Ms. Shiroff, I'll start with you just very simply, are you supporting Lee Zeldin for governor.

RS: I will support the Republican candidate, of course.

GR: Okay, so you're supporting Lee Zeldin. Do you have any concerns though, if you could just state them extremely briefly whether he's too conservative for New York as a whole, do you see that as a concern?

RS: I'm sorry you broke up a second. What was that?

GR: Do you have a concern about Lee Zeldin being too conservative for the state of New York?

RS: No, I do not, because honestly, I think that they have made some accusations about him that are false, and I think he has come out to defend those. So now I think that we would be in good hands, quite frankly.

GR: Okay, and we've got to do this Senator Mannion, and I apologize in about 20 seconds. You're supporting Governor Hochul, I assume, correct?

JM: I am. She's from upstate New York. She has a lot of background in, you know, working in the legislative world and she's a Syracuse University graduate. I can speak with her on local central New York topics, and she gets the pronunciation right on all the place names.

GR: Okay. And in 5 seconds, literally, no one's perfect, so in one word or phrase, what do you think is her biggest flaw so far as governor?

JM: You know, I would say honestly, that she's new to the position, so she's gaining experience.

GR: Okay, all right, I have to leave it there. That was State Senator John Mannion and Rebcca Shiroff. I want to remind everybody Election Day is November 8th. Senator Mannion, Ms. Shiroff. I want to thank you again for making the time to speak with me.

RS: Absolutely. Thank you so much. And thank you, John, also for joining in, this is great.

JM: Thank you, Grant. Thank you, Rebecca.

GR: You've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the public interest.

Grant Reeher is Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute and a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is also creator, host and program director of “The Campbell Conversations” on WRVO, a weekly regional public affairs program featuring extended in-depth interviews with regional and national writers, politicians, activists, public officials, and business professionals.