Woerner, Catalfamo spar for 113th Assembly seat
ALBANY — The race for the 113th state Assembly district pits a Democratic office-holder who says she is fighting for upstate communities against a Republican challenger who feels the incumbent has become too comfortable in the job.
But Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, and former Gov. George E. Pataki aide David Catalfamo, R-Wilton agree on one thing – broadband access for all must be a priority in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But how to raise the funding for that is where they separate.
Catalfamo said that Democrats in the Assembly want to tax the wealth individuals. But he said before going there, the state should look at making cuts. He suggested starting with Medicaid, which he says is generous.
“We need to squeeze out as much as we can,” said Catalfamo, a former senior vice president of the Empire State Development Corporation. “We have to have the conversation on how to reduce spending. The state is just looking to make more money. Let’s not kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”
Woerner counters that cutting health care amid a pandemic is a terrible idea. She instead has introduced legislation to lower the cost of delivering broadband to rural areas. She also wants to regulate broadband as a utility so that providers will be directed to expand coverage, and create broadband cooperatives and press for federal assistance.
“We need to recognize broadband is a necessary utility like electric, water, sewer and telephone," Woerner said. "You have to have it in order to function in society today.”
Catalfamo is also critical of Woerner, who, he said, as a member of the Assembly majority, is forced to vote with a block of "far-left" Democrats in the Assembly that he calls the "AOC-wing of the party" — a reference to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City, who has become a star of the liberal left.
“Carrie’s a minority in the majority,” said Catalfamo, who directs Oneida County's economic development. “That drags her to positions, to get her member items she is required to vote for things like ultra-millionaire’s tax and a 50-A package (granting public access to police disciplinary records). In order to be effective she needs to join the majority.”
Woerner said she doesn’t agree with everything passed by the Assembly, citing issues she had with the 2019 justice reform legislation that included pre-trial release of domestic violence suspects. However, she said, it’s important that she has a seat at the Democrats table so she can be a voice for rural New Yorkers. A Republican would not be in the room, she noted.
“In the Democratic majority, there are very few upstate members in the Senate and Assembly,” Woerner said. “There are even fewer who represent rural communities. I really believe from the beginning that the voices in upstate communities are not often present. I made a difference because my voice is there. I have a voice in the room where policies are made.”
She points her to accomplishments getting bills passed that affect rural communities, such as a tax break for volunteer firefighters and ambulance squad members; increasing the penalties for deer poaching and expanding opportunities for sport-shooting instructors. She also pushed to keep the Saratoga Race Course open without fans and is currently working to expand indoor capacity for restaurants that are struggling to survive.
“My portfolio of legislation has really embraced the values of our upstate communities and specific problems brought to me by members of the community,” Woerner said. “Whether they are business owners, hunters, snowmobilers or farmers, I think people know my door is always open and my ears are always open. If you bring me a problem, I will go to work and get it solved.”
Still, Catalfamo said as an economic development consultant who worked on bringing GlobalFoundries to Malta and is now revitalizing Utica, he knows how to get an economy moving, something he says he loves. He also faults Woerner with allowing those with interests aligned with a staff member's family to cloud her independence. He points to a bill that would allow those with less than 1,000 hours of cosmetology training to shampoo hair in a salon after achieving 500 hours of training. He said it benefits a staffer’s father.
“I worked in government for a long time,” Catalfamo said. “I believe you have to be diligent on how you run your office. … If someone comes to your office and they have a relationship there, the common-sense thing is to say, 'Let me introduce you to someone else.' I feel you can’t take your eye of the ball to what is going on in your office.”