The Republican candidates for Rensselaer County Executive squared off in a debate this week hosted by Spectrum News. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard recaps some of the most pressing issues discussed in the hour-long debate.
State Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin of Troy and current Deputy Rensselaer County Executive Chris Meyer spoke and occasionally sparred during the debate aired Thursday evening, only five days before voters will head to the polls to choose their Republican nominee.
Republican County Executive Kathy Jimino is retiring at the end of this year, capping a 16-year tenure in office. She backs Meyer in the race.
Democrat Andrea Smyth is also in the running.
In his opening statement, McLaughlin said he was dedicated to making Renssealer County “grow and prosper.” He touted a pro-business record, experience in the public and private sector, and his work to upgrade infrastructure.
Meyer said as part of the current administration, he’s worked to help seniors and veterans, pave, plow, and patrol streets, and led efforts to grow the local economy. He said as County Executive he’d continue working to deliver services at the lowest cost to residents. Sprawling Rensselaer County is a mix of urban and rural communities with about 160,000 residents.
In the first question, Assemblyman McLaughlin was asked to address recent press reports about an incident in which a longtime aide accused him of assaulting her. Tapes of an exchange, provided to the Times Union, feature McLaughlin using vulgar language. The aide later walked back the accusations.
“As for my staff member, she and I have worked very closely together for seven years – we’re friends. Do I apologize for what I said? Absolutely. It was unacceptable to say what I said and I apologize greatly and profusely for that,” said McLaughlin.
Meyer called McLaughlin’s comments in the tape “disgraceful.”
“You shouldn’t speak to anyone in this manner, let alone someone that works for you,” said Meyer. “There’s laws and rules and general decency that preclude from using this type of language with a staff member or any human being.”
McLaughlin accused Meyer’s campaign as “pushing” for the release of the tape. Meyer denied it.
The candidates were also asked if they would support Rensselaer County Executive Joel Abelove if he runs for re-election.
Abelove, also a Republican, has faced pressure in the public eye surrounding his handling of recent officer-involved shootings in Troy. The New York State Attorney General last week announced that he was given court approval to appoint a grand jury to investigate Abelove’s handling of a fatal shooting in 2016.
Abelove has resisted an executive order issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo that requires local prosecutors to turn over investigations into fatal police encounters to the AG’s office.
McLaughlin said he would reserve judgement.
“I’m certainly a friend of Joel. I helped Joel get elected. I campaigned with Joel. It’s unfortunate what’s going on. I disagree with the governor’s executive order, by the way. I do think it’s unconstitutional and I do think the courts are going to make a decision on that at some point,” said McLaughlin. “That being said, we have to wait and see how this plays out.”
Meyer said he’d like to see what the DA plans to do to “solve the ills of his office going forward.”
“There’s a lot of problems obviously that have come to forefront. I wish him well, obviously; you never want to see anyone in elected office not be successful. You always want to see them succeed. And hopefully he can right his ship very quickly.”
The candidates spoke about gun control. McLaughlin, an outspoken opponent of the SAFE Act, said it’s the worst law he’s ever seen.
Meyer said as a gun owner and sportsman he also opposed the bill, but now it’s the law and must be enforced.
The two discussed their work to address pollution. Regarding the PFOA contaminaton of water supplies in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, McLaughlin mentioned the pressure he put on the Cuomo administration to provide relief for Hoosick Falls residents. Meyer said the county was proactive in testing for PFOA in other communities, which led to the detection and remediation work in Petersburgh.
Both candidates also spoke about heroin and opioid addiction.
McLaughlin said he’d go after the addiction problem by strengthening law enforcement and treatment programs.
“We’re going to go right after Route 22. There’s a real problem out there with heroin, trafficking up and down. We will lock that down. We will have sheriff’s patrols out there quite a lot. That’s on the law enforcement side. I think you have to go after the dealers as hard as you can. But a lot of my friends will tell you that that just creates another dealer. So you also have to treat the person that’s addicted with care and love and to get them back on their feet,” said McLaughlin.
Meyer said his approach would be treatment and prevention.
“We have…an anti-heroin coalition the county started last year. It has over 400 participants in it right now. We meet very often to discuss the issues facing these communities. Because heroin addiction and any addiction devastates communities. It ruins lives, it ruins family lives, and it’s just a detriment to the whole community,” said Meyer.
Audio is courtesy Spectrum News. Republicans Steve McLaughlin and Chris Meyer will square off at the ballot box on Tuesday.