SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Democratic state Senate candidate Robin Andrews has spent the past few months in the background as two Republican heavyweights battled for New York’s 43rd District.
The 43rd is widely considered Republican territory — even Senate Democrats hadn’t tagged the freshly re-shaped district as one that should be focused on — and most assumed Andrews would be facing off against an entrenched incumbent, Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga.
But Saratoga County Clerk Kathy Marchione bested McDonald in a GOP primary that became a referendum on gay marriage, and now Andrews, supervisor of the Columbia County town of Claverack, is back in the fray, Democratic Party officials said.
“I’m interested in looking forward, not at what’s already happened,” Andrews said Thursday while sitting on a couch at Saratoga Coffee Traders in Saratoga Springs, a reference to the 2011 vote to legalize gay marriage, the vote widely credited with ending McDonald’s re-election bid.
Andrews, a married lesbian, doesn’t think the race is about social issues, though her left-leaning stances on gay marriage and abortion are in stark contrast to those of the much more conservative Marchione. She admits it’s ironic she’s running for the seat of the only GOP senator ousted because of his vote on the issue.
Marchione and Andrews — and almost every politician in the nation seeking elected office — are touting their job-creation credentials.
“The real difference is, I bring the business experience,” said Andrews, who has operated a financial consulting firm for more than a decade that works with multiple national publications, when asked about what differentiates her from the longtime county clerk.
Both women are calling for lower taxes and mandate relief. Marchione opposes increasing the minimum wage, while Andrews supports a wage hike, if it comes with some exemptions for small businesses.
But Andrews has an uphill battle.
Republicans hold a stark registration advantage, likely meaning Andrews must swing McDonald supporters, disenchanted after a long and often nasty primary, in order to best Marchione, or at least hope they stay home in November.
But Democratic Party officials, many of whom saw the 43rd race as a nonstarter with McDonald in the race, now see a glimmer of opportunity.
“The dynamics have changed without a doubt,” said Saratoga County Democratic Committee Chairman Todd Kerner, while labeling Marchione right-wing. “Roy had some moderate views.”
Marchione has pledged to unify Republicans in the four-county district and McDonald tossed his support behind her when he left the race.
McDonald saw widespread support from several powerful unions and the LGBT lobby. It’s unclear how much of that support, if any, will come Andrews’s way now that McDonald has bowed out.
The Andrews campaign had just $27,900 in its war chest as of Oct. 1, with no cash from the gay rights organizations that pumped cash in to McDonald’s primary campaign, according to Friday’s financial disclosure report. Marchione had just $24,000 in her campaign account as of Oct. 1. Marchione’s war chest dwindled in the lead up to last month’s primary.
Republicans have no intention of losing the 43rd District, as the GOP looks to hold its slim 33-29 majority in the upper legislative house. Holding on to the 43rd is considered a must to avoid turning “this upstate seat over to New York City-dominated Senate Democrats,” said Senate Majority Spokesman Scott Reif.
“I think we have a good chance at picking up this seat,” said Washington County Democratic Committee Chairman Sheila Comar.
Andrews doesn’t list specifics when asked which state mandates should be lifted. Instead, she points to things like redundant paperwork, arguing a collection of small changes could make a big difference for local government and business alike.
“I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that,” Andrews said, when asked what programs could be slashed to reduce state mandates.
She called the 2 percent tax cap “well-intentioned,” noting it has made local governments rethink budgeting, but also called the system of annually increasing local pension, retirement and Medicaid costs “unsustainable.”
Her eyes light up when she talks about legislative minutia. She has developed a passion for the details of drafting legislation as a member of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors.
She won the Claverack supervisor’s post in 2010, besting a 13-year Republican incumbent. She was the first Democrat to win the seat in 35 years, proof she can overcome a registration disadvantage by knocking on doors and making herself as available as possible, she said.
Andrews won that local race largely because of an issue with which many counties around the state are grappling.
The Columbia County Board of Supervisors was moving to privatize the county’s Pinehaven Nursing Home, located in Claverack, which was operating at a $500,000 annual deficit.
Most of the nursing home’s 150 employees lived in the community, and, since being elected, Andrews has led a movement to not only keep the nursing home public, but build a new one that’s now operating in the black because of an increased number of beds.