Posted on

By Arthur O’Sullivan

In a previous issue, I interviewed NYS Assemblywoman hopeful Lisa O’Keefe for our district 123. I have a history of interviewing political candidates, doing so for Happy Medium last fall during Binghamton’s city council race, Johnson City’s mayoral race, and Broome County’s District Attorney race. In this issue, I interviewed incumbent Representative Donna Lupardo. Together, these should present the two sides of our local politics, at least in this race. As I said previously, even if you don’t vote, it’s important to know who’s representing you and their potential impact on your lives at this university. If you found either or both of these interviews interesting, informative, or persuasive, I invite you to take the survey linked at the end of this interview. It will provide great insight into our student readership and their opinions on this race.

  1. Let’s start with a brief introduction: What’s your background in Broome County? In other words, why have you run in this district specifically?

I moved here from NYC to attend graduate school at Binghamton University in the late 1970s. I completed my Masters and taught at BU for 10 years before my teaching line was eliminated by state budget cuts. I spent the next 15 years working in community mental health, serving the last eight as Director of Education for the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier. It was during that time that I realized how state policies affect real world situations like those facing people with mental illness.

I decided to run for public office, first serving as a Broome County Legislator and now as a state representative, for several reasons. The first concerned my professional interest in mental health treatment, specifically the lack of health insurance parity and access to services. The next related to my environmental advocacy, having worked on many local issues regarding air and water quality, including an underground plume of contamination under the Village of Endicott. 

After choosing to stay in the Binghamton area after graduation, I felt compelled to do what I could to help the community and region get back on its feet after the economic collapse that began in the 1970s. The gradual loss of our manufacturing base left leaders in the community searching for the next IBM or Endicott-Johnson to help save us. I was committed to helping reignite the entrepreneurial spirit that had built this community in the first place, and to making substantial investments in higher education and advanced research.

  1. Why are you interested in the state assembly, as opposed to other offices?

Over the years, I’ve had many chances to run for other offices including the NYS Senate and the US House of Representatives. I have declined those opportunities knowing that my seniority and leadership roles in the Assembly were of benefit to this community. It’s never been about power or higher office for me as I’ve been entirely focused on helping our community rebuild its economy and quality of life. We’ve had amazing success in some areas, but are still deeply challenged in others. Our poverty rates, for example, are unacceptably high. 

  1. Why should students be interested in the state assembly race? More specifically, what tangible benefits does your office bring to Binghamton University, SUNY Broome etc.?

First, the NYS Legislature and the Governor craft the state budget, which is the principal source of funding for the SUNY system. We also oversee all state policies that affect SUNY, including tuition increases, TAP rates, opportunity programs, and more. I am the senior member of the Assembly Higher Education Committee and am involved in all of these deliberations. 

Over the years, I have also brought substantial resources to both BU and SUNY Broome. This has helped BU become one of the most prestigious state schools in the country, a premier SUNY Center, and now a federally designated hub for battery research. For example, I helped bring in state funds for the Innovative Technologies Campus and the Nursing and Pharmacy Schools at BU, as well as the transformation of the old Carnegie Library into the home of SUNY Broome’s Culinary School.

  1. Aside from your long-term tenure in office, what relevant experience do you have for this position?

Prior to my election, I had 10 years of experience in higher education as a Lecturer at BU. That was followed by 15 years working in community mental health and environmental advocacy. Serving one term on the Broome County Legislature also gave me insight into municipal government and the challenges they face. Along the way, I also served on many advisory boards for local non-profits like the YWCA, which gave me a greater appreciation for how valuable these organizations are.

  1. What sets you apart from other candidates, both Democrat and Republican—past and present?

I think that everyone brings their own unique experience and value to elected office. In my case, seniority is definitely a plus, affording me access to local resources along with many legislative opportunities. In Albany and locally, I have a reputation for working in a strong bi-partisan manner. I currently chair the Committee on Agriculture and Food and enjoy close working relationships with all of my colleagues, including Republican members of my committee who represent the majority of NY’s farms. 

  1. What reforms (if any) do you intend to make to your office, if re-elected?

I’m proud of my track record and what my team and I have been able to accomplish during my tenure. In terms of my offices in Binghamton and Albany, if re-elected I would hope to maintain the same level of constituent service and responsiveness that we are known for. As for my office as Member of Assembly, I have very high ethical standards, and always aim to treat everyone with dignity and respect. 

  1. What obstacles do you expect to encounter, both in this race and in your office, if re-elected? How do you plan to deal with them?

I can’t anticipate obstacles in my race at this early stage of the campaign. I do hope that as we approach the political season, we can improve the overall quality of our political dialogue. It’s hard to debate issues and policies on the merits when misinformation and fear are used as distractions. No one benefits, least of all the community, when this happens. As we have proven locally, people from different political persuasions can work together to achieve results for the greater good.

As far as my office goes, again, the divisive nature of politics has become very concerning. Hardened positions on the right and left have made more moderating voices like mine few and far between. I plan to continue to focus on the basics of healthcare, education, food, housing, child care, workforce training, public safety and the environment. 

  1. Is there any specific legislation, proposed either by yourself or your colleagues, that you are enthusiastic about? If so, why should students be interested in this legislation?

Having just finished the state budget, my attention will now turn to various legislative initiatives. Working with a broad coalition of legislators, I am prioritizing a package of bills that will benefit statewide Emergency Medical Services (EMS). I am also in the process of drafting new legislation that will create the “Community College Workforce Guarantee” to better recognize the critical role community colleges play in workforce development. Another item that I have been trying to pass for some time is the Student Journalism Free Speech Act, in support of high school journalists.

  1. In the unlikely event that Republicans win a majority in the Assembly, how would you intend to work with them to advance your cause? 

As you mentioned, this is unlikely. However, I have a good working relationship with all of my colleagues based on respect and mutual interests. If this were to happen, I’m sure we would still be able to accomplish a lot by working together. All of the issues I am currently working on also involve members of the minority.

  1. If your candidacy for re-election fails, how might you continue to press your agenda, both in this district and New York in general?

I would expect to return to teaching and volunteer in the community. Steady voices will always be needed to problem solve and be of service.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *