The seat in the 40th Senate District of New York, currently occupied by Republican Sen. Terrence Murphy, is up this year. Senator Murphy, who has announced he is seeking re-election, has already started campaigning. On the Democratic side, newcomer Robert Kesten entered the race. Challenging him for the Democratic nomination is former county Legislator Peter Harckham. Kesten and Harckham will square off on Sept. 13 to see who will face Murphy in November.
Recently, I interviewed Mr. Kesten on my cable show, “All About Town,” which airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday on Optimum Channel 74. The following are excerpts from that interview:
Why are you running for the State Senate?
I’ve worked in the political arena: in Albany, in Washington and locally, but I’ve never thought about being a candidate. My oldest son has mental health issues and lives at home and may never be able to live on his own. So, a robust health care system is vitally important to his survival. I went to Senator Murphy’s office and asked his staff what it was that he was doing proactively to prevent the devastation to our health care that Congress is trying to bring.
What was their response?
They told me that the Affordable Health Care Act was a national issue and so we have no position on that. I told them that I was worried about the suggestion that was being floated in Congress that we get block grants for Medicare, Medicaid and other social services. I know for a fact that such an approach has never worked well in the past.
What was their response to that question?
Federal issue and we have no position on that. I reminded them that the Assembly has passed three years in a row a “Medicare for all” bill. What about that? They responded, “As long as we are in charge of this chamber, that will never see the light of day… and we have no official position on that.”
I notice you’re saying “they.” Were these statements from Senator Murphy himself?
He had just left the office. My conversation was with his chief of staff. My experience, having worked on Capitol Hill, is that it is almost always preferable to speak to the chief of staff.
This experience was really upsetting. When I told my son, he told me that unless I was willing to do something about it, I had no right to complain. That’s when I decided to run.
As a candidate, can you highlight your three major issues?
Number one is clearly health care. I think that impacts everyone, since we’re all an accident or an illness away from losing everything we’ve ever worked for. Second would be taxes. We’re watching people leave our state because the property taxes have become unbearable. Taxes seem to always rise while our salaries and incomes do not. Education is vitally important as well. The truth is that we need to figure out a way to raise the money we need without taxing our citizens out of their homes!
As a senator, what would you do to change things?
I would do a thorough investigation on how other states have handled this issue especially with a view toward funding education in ways besides property taxes. We can raise money and take the burden off our already over-taxed citizens by closing loopholes for corporations and by asking the extraordinarily wealthy to pay their fair share. Right now, they are getting away with 15 percent or nothing. The result is the burden falls on regular people like us. And that’s just not fair.
So, would it be fair to say your main issues are health care, taxes and education?
Let’s not forget our failing infrastructure, women’s rights, and jobs. As for the infrastructure: We are replacing 19th and 20th century infrastructure with the same or older technology. We are not looking forward. When you build a bridge, that bridge should get more traffic off the road—it should alleviate traffic jams, not create more of the same…Why isn’t there a light rail on the Mario Cuomo Bridge to take people from Rockland County to the White Plains train station? Our focus should be to get cars off the road and, in the process, we would be cleaning the air as well. We also must make the commute affordable, not impossible, like it is today.
What responses have you received thus far from people you’ve encountered on the campaign trail?
It’s been very good. People are looking for change. Trump-like officials need to get pushed out of office. We have to have the type of reform that people are looking for. It’s not a matter of party anymore. It’s a matter of vision. Government needs to be proactive and not reactive like it is now. When you get out in front of an issue, whether it be roads or maintenance, whatever, it’s less expensive to fix and it’s more effective to use.
Can you give me an example of how you would “get in front of an issue”?
This past March, two storms knocked out our electrical grid. And yet still we don’t have any program in place. Yet we know that the climate is affecting the weather. It’s only going to get worse, not better. We are light years behind where we should be in terms of meeting this need…No matter where you see yourself on the political spectrum, right or left, you must understand that the current Legislature has not done its job. In 2018, we should not be in the dark for weeks at a time because of Con Ed or NYSEG. We should have a system with redundancies built into it and isn’t affected by weather or climate change.
Thank you for your time and I wish you the best of luck.
It was my pleasure.