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20th Toss Up

Congressman Scott Murphy faces a strong challenger in a tough political year

The race for the 20th Congressional District seat between incumbent Democrat Scott Murphy and political neophyte Republican Chris Gibson is very close, according to recent polls. In terms of experience, Murphy beats Gibson hands down. However, in an electoral climate where constituents are anxious to change the political oil, anything can happen.

“We feel good that we’re going to get reelected but I think it’ll be a close race,” said Murphy. “That’s the nature of the year that we’re in.”

Gibson, a proponent of free market policies and limited government, criticized Murphy’s support of President Obama’s healthcare bill and the economic stimulus. Gibson is strongly against the recently passed healthcare bill.

“I think that as a consequence of that bill we’re going to end up with higher premiums, higher taxes, more regulation, and more big government at a time that we need to be reducing the size of the federal government,” said Gibson.

“That is totally and absolutely untrue,” said Murphy. “That is something he just says over and over again, but that doesn’t make it true.”

Gibson called into question the methods by which the Congressional Budget Office created their cost-savings forecast, which helped the healthcare bill pass. Murphy has certainly taken flak in his district for supporting the healthcare plan, but that decision was partly responsible for him getting the Working Families Party endorsement, as they are on record saying they would not support any candidate opposed to the bill.

Gibson said that the Independence Party chairmen from Columbia and Warren counties endorsed his campaign. However, Murphy won the larger NYS Independence Party endorsement. Gibson said that was mainly due to Chairman Frank MacKay deciding there wasn’t going to be a primary. MacKay could not be reached for comment.

Gibson has the Republican Party nomination and recently enjoyed the fundraising clout of Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio) at a private function in Saratoga Springs. According to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission, Gibson has a $452,000 campaign fund, compared to Murphy’s $1.3 million.

Both candidates agree that government transparency is a key issue; however, they differ on the means to that end. Gibson said that every major effort to get corporate money out of politics is struck down by the Supreme Court.

“We need a creative, new approach to reforming the political process” said Gibson. “I’m an advocate for term limits.” Gibson said that if he were elected he would draft legislation that would prohibit legislators from serving for more than two terms, a total of eight years.

Murphy has sponsored clean- government bills, such as the Fair Elections Now Act, and supports movements by progressive political organizations, including Moveon.org’s “The Other 98%” initiative, that focused on limiting corporate influence on politics and repealing the recent Supreme Court ruling that gave corporations the same first amendment rights as citizens.

Gibson has stated he is against the now-defunct Disclose Act, a law that would enhance campaign donation disclosures.

“The bill was meant to combat corruption, the problem is the bill itself was corrupt, because it didn’t treat all organizations the same,” said Gibson. “I don’t even think the bill would be constitutional.” Plus, he said he opposes the Fair Elections Now Act, a bill that would provide public financing for independently funded candidates, because that would mean more government spending.

Murphy characterized Gibson’s stance on issues of government transparency as typical of the Republican attitude. “The Republican leadership told him key Republicans are going to stand firmly opposed to any disclosure and he just does what he’s told,” said Murphy.

Both candidates stressed the importance of creating jobs and growing small business in the 20th district.

“Companies I’ve started and helped build have created over a thousand jobs,” said Murphy. “I don’t think people are particularly going to be worried about partisan politics as much as they are who can get the job done, and the job is very clearly getting the economy moving and getting people back to work.”

Gibson said the biggest impediments to job growth in the 20th are tax regulation and healthcare costs. “I believe that we’re going to revitalize the economy by removing impediments to growth,” said Gibson. “Not by sending money to Washington and doing it through a stimulus bill.”

Murphy said his constituents are familiar with him and his track record. “I think what people are looking for is the candidate that is going to be better at getting the economy moving and helping create jobs and I think my experience is absolutely on point for that project. It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.”

—Daniel Fitzsimmons


Divvying Up the Dough

Lafarge pays half a million dollars in fines, but not everybody is thrilled

Those living within 30 miles of the Lafarge cement plant in Ravena are collectively coming into $490,000. But many expressed disgust after hearing on August 24 how New York state plans to shell out this settlement money.

Lafarge North America reached an agreement this January with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the 13 states that host its cement plants. The corporation agreed to curb harmful emissions of the respiratory toxins nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide at all its U.S. plants.

Modernization of the 50-year-old Ravena facility will achieve that, Lafarge claims. The draft environmental impact statement, which sets permit conditions for the proposed upgrade, is expected to come out soon.

Lafarge also consented to pay a $5 million in civil penalties to the federal government and the affected states. In late August, about 75 people gathered in a high school across Route 9W from the Lafarge smokestack for a public meeting about New York’s share of the award money.

They watched a PowerPoint presentation about school boiler replacement and green-energy curriculum training for 65 4th- through 6th-grade teachers in the Coxsackie, Hudson and Ravena- Coeymans-Selkirk school districts.

Other ideas, submitted via e-mail to info@nyserda.com, will be considered, said New York State Energy and Development Authority officials.

Lee Jamison of Stuyvesant shared her impressions of the meeting online with other members of the group Stop the Tire Burn.

“A lot of people were puzzled and frustrated,” she posted. “A major failure to communicate, if every I saw one. . . . The poor NYSERDA staff were, or seemed, totally clueless about the Lafarge issues. We were invited repeatedly to talk to staff ‘after’ rather than publicly.”

Susan Falzon, an officer with the environmental watchdog organization Friends of Hudson, stormed out of the auditorium.

“I was furious,” she said. “They should make it a public meeting, not a dog and pony show. The consent order was a good one. It’s just that at the very end, where the rubber meets the road, the community was ignored. I felt that they didn’t hold a public meeting to listen to people; they came with predetermined conclusions about how the money was going to be used.”

Those in attendance were also upset that grants will be doled out depending partly on how much cost-sharing applicants are willing to bear.

“The taxpayers shouldn’t have to pony up in order to take advantage of it,” said Elyse Kunz, co-founder of Community Advocates for Safe Emissions, based in Ravena. “NYSERDA had already made its mind up. People in the audience had a lot of interesting ideas. They seemed unwilling to listen or enter in any kind of discussion.”

NYSERDA attorney David Prior, who chaired the meeting, said his agency’s goal is to “get the money on the street.”

“I understand that folks are frustrated,” he said. “They’ve been living with the plant and living with the litigation. They became aware money was available. We tried to find the best bang for our buck without burning through a lot of administrative costs.”

As of Aug. 31, Prior said he had received no e-mail proposals. He said he planned to discuss “a couple of ideas” e-mailed to the state Department of Environmental Conservation during a conference call in early September with the state Attorney General’s office. During the conversation, he hopes to set a deadline for e-mail submissions.

“I was thinking a month would be a reasonable amount of time,” he said.

With an application deadline in late winter or early spring, the money could be distributed in late spring so that projects may be completed over the summer of 2011, said Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Schools’ energy manager Matt Miller, one of the few who left the meeting unfazed.

“We have plenty of projects we can use the money for,” he said. “The elementary school boilers are 45 years old. They’re at the end of their useful life.”

Air filters are another possibility, he said. As it stands, RCS must replace filters frequently because they clog with “what appears to be cement dust,” which hardens with moisture, he said.

He added that the funds the district would otherwise have to spend on furnaces or filters could be used for other budget items.

—Laurie Lynn Fischer




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