By Matt Youngfrau
SULLIVAN COUNTY October 31, 2003 The 98th Assembly District includes all of Sullivan County as well as the towns of Deerpark, Greenville, Wawayanda and Minisink and the cities of Port Jervis and Middletown in Orange County.
The Democratic and Working Families candidate is former Assemblyman Jake Gunthers widow, Aileen. Her opponent is former Sullivan County Planning Commissioner, Republican and Conservative candidate Alan Sorensen.
Jake Gunther was the Assemblyman for 11 years. His sudden death left a void in the district and much work undone. His widow felt the need to continue her husbands work.
Right before Jacob died, he told me wives run, Gunther recalled. I sat down with my family, and they all strongly encouraged me to do this especially my father-in-law. This is something I should do. I want to finish his term.
During Gunthers term, Aileen was with her husband every step of the way.
When you live with someone as long as I did with Jacob, you learn each others work, she said. As a nurse, Jake would listen to all my stories and hear what the needs, concerns and desires of the people were. I brought them all to Jake.
The district faces many tough issues. Gunther said she is familiar with all of them. But as a nurse, she cares deeply about healthcare.
The constituents and all of New York State deserve good healthcare, Gunther remarked. It needs to be affordable healthcare. It cannot be driven by HMOs and the bureaucrats.
We need to expand the criteria for such plans as Family Health Plus, Gunther continued. A single mother with one child that makes $18,000 can get it free. If they make $20,000-$22,000, they are not eligible. We should allow them to pay on a sliding scale so they have coverage.
Gunther is also concerned about the price of prescription medication.
Some people have to pay a $1,000 a month for their prescriptions, she stated. That is a lot to charge for medication. Many cant afford that. We need to make intelligent decisions.
Another big issue for Gunther is education.
The [State] Legislature has to look to fund quality education, Gunther commented. The formula for taxes makes no sense. It should be done through income tax, not property taxes.
Owning a house used to be the American dream, Gunther continued. These taxes discourage that, and it is a burden on the working family. We need to stabilize that. Also, we need to get some of these tax-exempt properties back on the tax rolls.
With both healthcare and education, we need to cut out the fluff and make it more efficient, she said. We have to make it better. I will carry these bills and scream in Albany. We have to stabilize this. It will be my main mission.
Gunther is also a proponent of the agricultural industry.
It is an important part of the community, she stated. We have to encourage their survival. Jake did a lot of work to help them.
Gunther says she will bring that same fighting spirit to Albany.
I will not be a puppet, she swore. I will stand on my own two feet. I do not owe anything to anybody. I will stand up for myself and for family values. I will vote how my constituents want me to vote. I will not be told how to vote. My loyalty is to my district.
I am not inexperienced, Gunther pointed out. I was by Jakes side the 11 years he was there. I will be my own person and stand up for my district.
Gunther also looked at economic development and the Empire Zone.
We need to have the Empire Zone do what it was originally meant to do, Gunther commented. I will bring Assembly members up here and show them our needs. I will get their votes to help us. I have a way with people.
We need good jobs here, Gunther continued. We have to keep the area viable. We have a lot to offer. I will do the same for Orange County. It has to be balanced to put the businesses where they are wanted and to protect the environment. It will not happen overnight.
Gunther addressed casinos.
It will boost the economy and have a trickle-down effect, she remarked. We still need to be diversified. I am excited about the Performing Arts Center. We need to build on tourism. It will have a domino effect, and we all flourish.
More locally, Gunther is very well aware of the landfill situation.
Importation is not the best answer, she stated. New York State dropped the ball on waste management. We need to revisit the issue.
Gunther lives in Forestburgh. She has three children.
Alan Sorensen was hailed as a competent and capable Planning Commissioner, helping drive the countys economic growth. So why would he give up that and a $90,000 annual paycheck?
Unknowingly, through my life experiences, it has prepared me very well to take on the challenge of representing the residents of the 98th Assembly District, Sorensen stated. I have committed my life to public service and felt that some very important issues will be decided on the state level within the next few years that could have profound impacts for years to come. . . . I am uniquely qualified with issues of economic development, growth, environmental conservation, and the issue of casino gaming in Sullivan County.
Speaking of gaming, It is within the countys economic strategy, Sorensen said. We need to be diversified in the county. I was honored to play a key role with helping develop many programs.
Some of the programs Sorensen played a role in include the Main Street Redevelopment Center, the Empire Corporate Park, the Upper Scenic Delaware Byway, and the Empire Zone. He has worked closely with the Partnership for Economic Development and other agencies to attract such businesses as Kohls, Formaggio Cheese, Ideal Snacks, and Crystal Run Healthcare.
These entities have created good-paying jobs for area residents with good benefits, Sorensen remarked. We need a diversified economic base. We need to insure progress is complemented by the introduction of casinos rather than overshadowed by it.
The discussion has grown from several thousand jobs to 15,000 casino jobs, Sorensen continued. There are only 30,000 people employed here and 1,000 unemployed. Who are we creating those jobs for? More importantly, we must insure that casinos develop in a manner that complements the area and preserves our quality of life.
Sorensen addressed the $15 million contracts the county has with two of the tribes.
As the host community, it is not good enough to simply have money to mitigate the impacts, he said. We should also ask for a host community benefit. We should have a trust fund to pursue other educational and economic initiatives. I do believe there is a place for casino gaming. It has to be carefully planned.
Sorensen already has a plan for the incoming Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) at Monticello Raceway.
I outlined a proposal whereby 25 percent of the projected revenue, about $9.9 million, be earmarked for the local school districts and Sullivan County Community College. The VLTs should benefit all host communities.
Sorensen talked about entering the Assembly as a minority member.
There are three branches of government Assembly, Senate, and the governor two of which are controlled by Republicans, he commented. Throughout my career, I have been able to work with both sides of the aisle. I bring creativity and energy to the table.
Sorensen addressed school taxes.
This has been discussed for decades, he explained. The state should re-examine the way they fund schools. It should be by income tax, not property tax. We need to be more progressive. If we spread it out, it will reduce the burden on seniors.
As for education itself, I am opposed to all students having to take the Regents, Sorensen stated. We have to look at the adverse impacts. It will increase the dropout rate. It will lead to lowering the standards. It is critical that we give students the tools they need to master the trade of their choice.
In that aspect, we need to establish an apprenticeship program, Sorensen continued. We can bring it for master plumbers, carpenters, or electricans.
Sorensen feels that his planning background can help with the budget deficit.
The current state debt is $39 billion, he remarked. The state spent $3.9 billion on interest. That equates to $1,700 of debt for each man, woman, and child. We have to look to spend money more effectively. I will volunteer my expertise to help it.
Sorensen has long been a staunch agriculture supporter. In fact, Sorensen grew up on a farm upstate.
We can come up with innovative ways to enhance the economy, Sorensen said. I will be a strong, independent voice for the people of the 98th Assembly District. I will continue to work on Ag. and Main Street programs. I will advance the initiatives started here in a meaningful manner.
And the landfill?
I will make myself available to the Legislature, the villages, and the towns to help them develop an alternative to benefit the community, he commented. Importation can be phased out, say, over a seven-year period. We might offset the loss of revenue with a light industrial park. We have the existing infrastructure. Again, it is not an issue for Assembly. However, I will be ready, willing, and able to assist if I can.
Sorensen related what he could do in Albany.
I understand the workings of government, he explained. I have written and presented resolutions. I have prepared program guidelines. I will hit the ground running.
Sorensen will look into expanding the rail service, as well.
Orange County should upgrade speed and frequency, he said. In the long term, I will lobby to expand to Sullivan County. One route we can re-establish would go through Wurtsboro and Summitville. It could also give us a future opportunity for freight.
Sorensen concluded, I will represent the entire district. I want to see this area live up to its full economic potential. We need to preserve the environment and the quality of life.
I love this area. Jane and I are raising our children here. I want to create an environment where they can graduate college and find employment opportunities here to match their education. I want to enhance the quality of life and the environment. I just want the opportunity to serve.
Sorensen lives with his wife Jane and their three children in Rock Hill.