CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — With election preparations gearing up for a final push, the Clifton Park Democratic Committee introduced their candidates to party members at a mid-September picnic that featured the candidates stating their reasons for seeking office.
The political back and forth that is part of daily life in Washington is missing in the Capital Region as candidates quietly vie for residents’ votes going door to door and putting out lawn signs.
The Committee’s Sept. 15 picnic in the pavilion behind the Rexford Fire Department Station was a family affair that gave the kids time to play in the bounce houses before the hamburgers and hot dogs while the adults heard from the candidates.
Adding some fire to the easy-going afternoon was a riveting speech from U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, who passed along insights from Washington while extolling the need to elect the Party’s candidates in local races.
Democrats running for office this year in Clifton Park are incumbent town Justice Robert Rybak and Kerensa Rybak (no relation). Judge Rybak is seeking another four year term on the bench while Kerensa Rybak is seeking to win a seat on the Town Board.
Joining them in greeting local Democratic Party members were Julie Garcia and Mike Violando. Both candidates are running for seats on the bench of the State Supreme Court’s Fourth Judicial District, which includes Clifton Park.
“For the first time in quite a while we have a candidate who is running for Town Board and I think that’s come about over a lot of issues at the local level, mostly over the fiasco surrounding the Shen park land,” said Committee Chairman Pat Lyons. “The town leadership wanted that land on the tax rolls and now, after two referendums, it seems to be going in the right direction.”
By electing a Democrat to the Town Board Lyons feels there will finally be a level of checks and balances on a board long-controlled by Republicans.
“When you have one party rule a lot of questions don’t get asked, and issues don’t get explored. When you have the amount of development going on that we have here it’s always a good idea to have things debated,” he said.
Tonko, who followed Lyons’ remarks, echoed the Committee Chairman’s statement about checks and balances being the cornerstone of a good democracy and congratulated Kerensa Rybak for getting her name on the ballot.
“Yes,” Tonko said, “public lands are important. From where I sit in Washington I think some of my Republican colleagues never saw a piece of public land they didn’t think would look better with some sort of drilling on it.”
As he moved beyond discussing the local candidates Tonko described three points he believes are necessary to get the county back on the right track; getting the right candidates elected in 2019, getting an accurate count of the country’s population in the upcoming census, and clearly stating the reasons why there needs to be a change made in the oval office in 2020.
“The 2019 elections should make a statement that the responsiveness of local governments that drive our values needs to be respected,” he said. “I don’t think the basic values of America are being honored, respected or reinforced; it’s roll backs and cuts. We need to embrace the intellectual capacity of the nation and put it to work providing hope. If you want to make America great you begin with kindness.”
In her remarks Kerensa Rybak noted her 16 years in the community and questioned why in all that time there has not been a single representative on the Town Board from another political party.
“It’s time for someone to be there to cast a dissenting vote from time to time,” she said. “I’m new at this, green, but I hope people will take a chance on me. I want to give back to my community.”
Her platform states she will represent all community members regardless of party affiliation, support small businesses, provide a new voice and a new perspective on local government.
Robert Rybak is running for his 10th term as town justice unopposed. Despite a recent leg injury he made clear that prior to the mishap he was able to campaign in all the town’s election districts, a feat he has accomplished in each of his campaigns.
When he first ran for office Rybak made four promises to residents; victims who had been harmed by a crime would have their damages reimbursed by the defendant, he would treat people appearing before him with respect, he would protect the rights of all parties, and his court would be a model of efficiency and fairness. After 36 years on the bench Rybak said he believes he’s kept those promises made to the community.
He continues to require defendants to pay for damages they’ve caused and still requires a parent to appear in court with a defendant if they are under the age of 18.
Garcia is the daughter of a miner who became the first woman elected Essex County District Attorney. Her path to law school took her through two Capital Region community colleges while working as a bartender, secretary, receptionist, and waitress before earning her undergraduate degree from Siena College.
After graduating from Albany Law School and working as a prosecutor in Suffolk County she returned to the North Country upon the deaths of her mother and sister from opioid abuse to help raise her sister’s children. After losing the Essex County D.A. position by 50 votes she opened her private practice.
“I have 13 years’ experience as a defense attorney and seven as a prosecutor,” she said. “I’ve come a long way. I have the passion.”
Violando is also an Albany Law School graduate and a partner in a local law firm. He has nearly 20 years of legal experience and sees a need for a greater Democratic Party presence on the bench in the Supreme Court’s Fourth Judicial District.
In brief remarks at the Committee picnic he described his dedication to ensuring equal access to New York’s courts for all his clients including those who couldn’t afford the fees. He also noted his commitment to preserving and enforcing the Constitutional promise of equality and justice for all who come before him if he’s victorious, regardless of their background or station in life.