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By Arthur O’Sullivan

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s an election year. Before the federal drama of a Biden-Trump rematch consumes us this fall, I’d like to draw student attention to more local races. I did the same in Happy Medium last fall for Binghamton’s city council race, Johnson City’s mayoral race, and Broome County’s District Attorney race. This year, we turn our eyes to Albany, where elections for NYS assembly will impact everyone at this university. To that end, I have interviewed the main candidates for our assembly district (123): the Republican Lisa O’Keefe, and incumbent Democrat Donna Lupardo. O’Keefe will make her case in this issue, and Lupardo in the next. In doing this, I hope to encourage at least a modicum of local political knowledge and engagement at Binghamton University. 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.

  1. Let’s start with a brief introduction: What’s your background in Broome County, and why are you running in this district specifically?

I moved to Binghamton in 5th grade when my father, career Air Force, volunteered for Vietnam. My parents chose Binghamton because they were born and raised here and wanted us to grow and prosper in this thriving community. 

In my teens, I worked on various campaigns including one election where the Democrats and Republicans allowed me to simultaneously work on a campaign from each of their headquarters. Both sides knew that negative and self-serving politics has no place in government. To make for a better place to live, a candidate needs to go beyond their party and represent the people. 

Later, I became a Broome Legislative Intern and County Executive for the Day. I graduated from Broome and SUNY Oswego with a degree in Political Science and became a Senate Session Assistant, where I crafted a bill to protect child actors that is still in effect to this day.

My background in Broome also includes me working for WICZ-TV, having 2 magazines to promote this area and being a community organizer.

I am running because each one of us must be a dynamic partner for the solution to make this a better place to live. Teamwork is essential to conquer any problem with emphasis focused on the best overall effective solution. This was how I conducted myself when I was elected to office in Connecticut and how I will conduct myself when I win this election.

Of note, I had moved outside this area to Connecticut due to my work and my marriage, but when my husband died I made the choice to come back here. I could have moved anywhere but I chose Binghamton because it is home. When I returned I was saddened to find that this area had changed: it still had the beautiful landscapes and caring residents, businesses and students who were fully dedicated to helping shape this area and we still had the innovation that we have always been known for, but this area failed to keep up with the needs of any thriving community. It stopped being the “Valley of Opportunity” and this void became filled with so many negatives that I knew I had to step up to the plate. 

My opponent has had 20 years in office. Failure to thrive stems from elected officials’ actions and mis-actions. Now is the time for a new set of eyes—a new way of doing things. Now is the time to make for a positive change.

  1. Why are you interested in the state assembly, as opposed to other offices?
    One should only run for office if there is a need. This office has made missteps and inactions that have made victims of us all. My efforts, based on my proven practical experience, will afford the constituents of my district better and more focused government activities to resolve problems which focus negatively on us in the state in general and on the 123rd district in particular.
  1. Why should students be interested in the state assembly race? More specifically, what tangible benefits would your office bring to Binghamton University, SUNY Broome etc., if elected?

Students should be interested in all races. It is their voice that matters;  it is their voice that elected officials are mandated to represent.  In the Assembly, I will play a critical role in education based on my experience as a teacher. Where others look to cut the education budget in areas such as special education, or shifting money to wealthy neighborhoods rather than where it needs to be used, I do not. Students are our future. We need to provide them with the tools and resources to be successful in life. This means not only equipping schools with the educational resources, but also providing for safe learning environments free of asbestos and lead. And it involves listening—listening not only to the administrators and teachers but to the students as well. It is from open communication that the needs that schools and students have will be achieved. 

Finally, all races afford students visibility. Even though the students are visible to the eye, their needs and them as people are not seen. I understand the sacrifices the students make to afford their studies, their internships, and their strong sense of volunteerism in this community—all without any compensation. I see you and I know that as you help campaigns, it is just one more way that others will see you as well. Never allow yourself to be invisible. Work every day at making others see you and what you bring to this community and this world. 

  1. What sets you apart from other candidates, both Democrat and Republican—past and present?
    I am one of you. I’m not a career politician nor a person of wealth. I’m the average person who wants to do good in my part of the world. Isn’t that what all of us want? Some, because of power or position, forget that basic fact. It’s with that fact that I have never stood on party lines and will never put special interests above the needs of the people. As simple as this sounds it is a more novel approach to modern government—an approach I hope will catch on.

  2. What reforms (if any) do you intend to make to the office of Assembly District 123, if elected?

When COVID hit and people lost their jobs and businesses closed their doors, State legislators voted themselves a 29% raise. They are now the highest-paid state legislature in the nation—plus they can hold another job. The practice of having an employee set their own raises at whatever level and whenever they want is wrong. We, the people, are the employer and the state legislators are our employees. We hire them through our vote. Raises for state legislatures should be voted on by the people at the polls.
To ensure money is spent in the best interest of the taxpayers, I would mandate a cap on discretionary funds with full transparency and accountability to prevent waste, distortion of priorities and corruption. The 2024 Executive budget proposal appropriates $14.8 billion in discretionary funds where only the Governor and State legislature can decide where, when and how the money is to be spent and without any public scrutiny. 

I would rid us of using taxpayer dollars to fund political races. Our state legislature passed a bill allowing those running for Assembly $175,000 of taxpayer dollars to pay for political activities. This results in higher taxes. Taxpayer dollars should only be used on goods and services that provide benefit to the people and not provide benefit to a political candidate.

  1. What obstacles do you expect to encounter, both in this race and in your office, if elected? How do you plan to deal with them?
    I am approaching this race from the point of view of change.

Psychologists recognize that humans have a preference for familiarity and will resist change even if it’s profoundly positive. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 faced significant opposition from many even though it advanced greater equity—a greater good created because of change. Let’s apply this to my race. We have an incumbent who has been in office for 20 years. During this period, we have seen this area change from being known as the Valley of Opportunity to being known as the county with the second highest poverty rate in NYS. Yet, this gradual and consistent decline under her watch has seen her narrowly hold onto office because of the natural tendency for people to resist change. But the tides are about to change. People are now standing up to say they want more—they demand more. I will educate them on the issues and present to them the bills in their entirety so they can form their own opinion. That is how a democracy works. Give people the information.  Then, at the polls, if they agree with the issues I stand on, they will vote for me. This belief in people is how I approached my race when I won overwhelmingly and it is how I am approaching my race now.  I will be the voice of the people and I will give them the resources they need to make educated decisions in this partnership.

The other change I represent is that I am not a party person. There are people who vote straight based on party alone. And there are elected officials who vote in support of a bill only if it is introduced by their own party members. Both of these actions are a disservice. I believe in voting for the person and not for the party. When I was in elected office I voted based on my constituents’ needs and not my party’s demands. Although this is the intent of our democratic process—to elect people who truly will be our voice in government—it is more common for some in office to represent the interests of their party and special interest groups. I will not do that. I am only running to save this state and our corner of it. Because of my hard stand, I am running a grassroots campaign. I know where my allegiance is owed and it is owed to the people.

  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?
    Soft-on-crime legislation lets criminals like Isaac Rodriquez out without bail to commit 56 more violent crimes before his court date for the first offense, or where those who have committed heinous crimes are given the names and home addresses of all witnesses to their crime 35 days after being released, and well before their court date. I will introduce legislation to get rid of these bills and propose legislation founded on research, statistics and proven methodologies to keep us safe. And I will propose legislation that prevents crime from happening in the first place.

Specifically, I will propose legislation to increase our mental health and substance abuse resources, reduce the abuse of elderly by making home health care aids mandated reporters and by offering a 24/7 three digit hotline for them, advance education needs, help the veterans, economy and more to move us forward.

  1. Republicans have remained a minority party in the NYS Assembly for decades, and that’s unlikely to change. What impact do you think your office will have without a partisan majority?  

While Republicans may not hold the majority in the State Legislature, they have been successful in introducing bills that have become law. This happens when legislation is based on the true needs of the people. Republicans also wield influence through negotiation and strategic alliances to advance the interests of their constituents. And remember that an elected official is the voice of the people. By interacting with their constituents, they can raise the individual voices to a larger audience that has the power to make the positive changes needed. They can raise awareness for important issues and mobilize support for needed issues. And they can provide the oversight and accountability that is needed with a two-party system that affords healthy debate to more fully understand issues and revise legislation to provide maximum benefit. 

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

Failing is not an option. New York has been labeled a “mega loser state” by Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary and other investors who are leaving to other states. There are empty office buildings and vacant homes littering the entire state. The mass exodus by those from all demographics is being driven by crime, taxes, crashing economy and lack of affordability, jobs and livability. We can’t even keep the brilliant minds that graduate from Binghamton University. This human bleed is expected to increase in coming months if we do not make a positive change founded on sound, effective legislation and spending being allocated on the services and programs we need. Make no mistake about it: the clock is ticking. We are at the eleventh hour. The time is now to educate the voters and win this election to save our state.

2 Replies to “An Interview with Lisa O’Keefe, NYS Assembly Candidate”

  1. We need a change. New York State’s Democrat majority has not made the state better. People are leaving in droves. That should tell us all we need to know.

  2. Absolutely SPOT ON! I am the son of a legal immigrant, love the state geography, and am a life long resident, have many friends and 3 sons here but I am leaving this state ASAP. I know it makes the state “more blue” but the thought of my tax dollars going to support much of the corrupt agenda in this state and the thought of compliance with some regulations (proposed and real) – are more than I can / will tolerate!

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