In the race for the Cattaraugus County 8th District Legislator seat, incumbent Republican Frank Higgins points to his passion for the community while Democrat Adam Jester touts his experience in local politics.
Although Higgins is the incumbent, he has only served on the legislature since mid-August when he was appointed to replace Matthew Keller, who resigned from his seat. The winner of Tuesday’s race will fill the remaining three years on Keller’s term.
Jester served for two years on the Olean Common Council from 2014 to 2015, serving as Council President during his last year. He decided not to seek re-election to help form the Olean Business Development Corporation last year. Jester said that with the corporation solidly off the ground, he can turn his attention back to politics.
“Now I can shift my focus to the fact that I really miss the public service aspect,” Jester said. “I miss the work, I miss the people and I miss the chance to taking a fresh look at some outdated things.”
In the private sector, Jester has worked for the Cutco Corporation in Olean in various roles for over 15 years. He was elected Council President at a time when the Council had a Republican majority,but he says he was able to accomplish most of the goals he set forward. He is most proud of his work in the revitalization project for downtown Olean, as well as the building of a new Homer Street Park in North Olean.
Higgins has volunteered much of his time to community foundations and organizations. Higgins is on the Board of Directors at the Olean City School District and the Olean General Hospital Foundation. He also chairs a committee that distributes thousands of dollars to local organizations each year, including the SPCA and children’s centers.
Higgins said that he was asked to interview for the legislature position over the summer, and despite having no prior experience in elevted office, was selected. He has already been part of several major votes with the legislature.
“In terms of legislation, the thing I am most proud of is raising the age you can purchase tobacco to 21 years old in Cattaraugus County,” Higgins said. “All of the research shows that the brain is still developing until 21 so if we can delay or even stop people from picking up a pack of cigarettes and saving one family from the tragedy of emphysema, cancer or heart disease by not picking up the habit. If we can stop one person, it was well worth my vote.”
The new law went into effect Nov 1., banning all tobacco sales in Cattaraugus County to anyone under the age of 21.
District 8 covers the City of Olean, and both candidates agree that the communication between the city and the county needs to improve. Jester knows this first-hand.
“There are some things that we worked on at the city-level that we really could have used some great partnership from the county,” he said. And not that we didn’t get the partnership from our currently elected legislators, it is just that it would have been more productive if we would have been able to meet more often and have each other to have each other be more in tune with each other’s issues. Basically to have that mutual understanding of each other’s agendas and situations and challenges. That was one of the things that slowed us down in some of our neighborhood initiatives.”
Higgins agreed with that assessment, but also said that communication needs to extend to Olean residents. If Higgins is elected, his goal is to clean up neighborhood blight and to hold landlords accountable for keeping their properties up to a certain standard.
“We want people to come into this area and when buildings and houses are run down it’s tough to do,” Higgins said.
Along those same lines, he wants to expand the Cattaraugus County Land Bank, which invests in vacant and abandoned properties.
Another major issue for Higgins is to keep the two nursing homes in Machias and Olean under county control. He said that the two nursing homes employ around 275 people, and are positive to the community.
“I have seen the passion from the employees,” Higgins said. “Each and every one of the I’ve talked to love their job. I know numerous people who are in those nursing homes and the care is fantastic. And then I hear the stories from the privatized nursing homes and the care just isn’t as good.”
Jester and Higgins both said that they have been friends for a long time and would not be taking any negative shots at each other during the campaign. They want to focus on the issues that are most important to them and their experience--but nothing personal.
“You’re voting to hire someone into a very important job that is going to be paid for with your tax dollars,” Jester said. “The most common ways to hire someone is to look at their résumé, what qualifications they have for the job and what they would like to do with the job. I would encourage everyone to do that, not only in this race but other races as well. It doesn’t always have to be about politics, and what box you checked for your political affiliation when you were 18.”
The candidates were asked the top reason voters should mark their names on the ballot next Tuesday.
“I am doing it for the right reasons,” Jester said. “I care, I have dedicated my life this. I have dedicated my life to giving back to the area and I have nothing but good intentions on what I’m there for. I love giving back and that’s what I’m there for.”
“For me it comes down to experience and the ability to do the job on day one,” Higgins said. “Being able to get involved and get positive results for all of the taxpayers on day one. That experience I think does go a long way.”