CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. >> After visiting 55 cities, town and villages in the 49th Senate District and speaking with thousands of residents who live there, Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Ostrelich said she heard nothing to sway her from her progressive platform centered on education, health care, and jobs.
Ostrelich is a Niskayuna attorney and member of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals who is challenging incumbent state Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, for the right to represent the district’s residents.
The 49th Senate District is the second largest in the state in area and includes all of Fulton and Hamilton counties and parts of Saratoga, Schenectady and Herkimer counties.
In order to hear the concerns of the district residents Ostrelich undertook a “55 in 55 Listening Tour” in mid-July. The goal was to visit, listen, and campaign in each of the district’s 55 cities, towns, and villages in 55 days. The tour wrapped up Sept. 2 in Scotia.
What Ostrelich saw and heard on her tour confirmed that the campaign platform on which she is running was in sync with constituents’ needs, wishes, and wants, she said
“When we started the campaign I thought the top issues were schools, health care and jobs, but I wanted to hear what issues were important to people. There’s no better way to do it than knocking on their doors and asking what’s on their minds,” she said. “I wanted to get out and hear from people at their kitchen tables. I found out that health care is the number one issue for a lot of people.”
Ostrelich said she made it a priority of her campaign to speak with people in every part of the district because she viewed meeting with them at their front doors, in their homes, as an important part of her campaign. What she found in her one-on-one discussions was a knowledgeable electorate frustrated with legislative inaction.
“My opponent has been in office in Albany for more than 40 years,” she said. “I found voters want a fresh choice, someone with new ideas who asks new questions in a new way.”
Ostrelich said what she found surprising was voters’ depth of knowledge on some of the issues. Constituents, she said, knew the state Senate was the legislative body blocking the New York Health Act.
“The Health Act is a framework to offer New Yorkers universal health care. It has passed the Assembly four times but it couldn’t even get on the Senate Health Committee agenda to be heard and my opponent sat on the Committee this last year,” she said. “I fully support the New York Health Act. At the very least, we need to be hearing about solutions that are available.”
As an example of the tough choices people must make on the issue of health care, Ostrelich described one woman in Caroga Lake who discontinued her high deductible health care plan to save the $100 monthly premium because she needed the money.
“We are looking at a crisis. You are just delaying the inevitable, it’s not if but when,” Ostrelich said. “People are making tough decisions. There are some families who can afford (health care) and some who can’t and that is unacceptable. When you go to people’s doors and hear stories like that I know health care is important.”
Ostrelich said she received strong support from the district’s county and local Democratic Committees when she was scheduled to visit their counties as part of the listening tour. In towns, cities or villages where there wasn’t a Democratic Committee she would reach out Independent, unaffiliated, and even Republican officials.
“There is a strong tradition of running independently of party there,” Ostrelich said. “Party affiliation was not a problem. They were happy to talk about their town and frankly, they were happy to get my call.”
Ostrelich said she found a nearly universal deep desire from public officials in many parts of the district to do the best for their communities regardless of party politics.
“I happened upon Republican voters as well as public officials who are incredibly supportive, who were more than happy to speak with me, who asked for “Republicans for Michelle” buttons which we had made in red,” she said. “Folks in the northern counties, including northern Saratoga County are independent minded. They are interested in talking about real issues, being heard, and frankly, change.”
On the issue of schools, Ostrelich said she found a number of the school districts in the 49th are owed large amounts of money by the state. More money for the schools means more academic programs, higher achievement levels, and jobs. In many cases school districts are the largest employers in the community.
“Most of the folks I spoke with know they need help with their schools, that they’re owed money, that families are moving and they’re losing enrollment,” she said. “Schenectady schools are owed $44 million. When elected I’ll work to have the rural school districts included in the state aid formula and see they’re paid what they are owed.”
On the issue of jobs, Ostrelich said she noted a pressing need for infrastructure, which includes access to broadband Internet service, cell phone service, and power and sewer districts.
“Take the town of Hope in Hamilton County,” she said. “There is no broadband and no cell service. How are you going to take online educational courses, offer telemedicine, or attract businesses? How are you going to attract young families?”
After 55 days listening to concerns from voters in the 49th Senate District Ostrelich said she realized there was a repetitive nature to the stories she was hearing.
“I didn’t realize all the needs,” she said. “When I hear the same types of stories, like those about health care, I have to think it’s systemic. The towns and villages are confronting the issues individually. We need to give them some coordination in helping them modernize.”