WATERTOWN – Today is primary election day – one of two scheduled for this summer – and regular polling places will be open across the state for Republicans and Democrats to vote for their favorite candidates for a variety of posts.
In Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, Republican voters will choose their candidate for the 116th Assembly District. Their choices are Scott A. Gray, a 20-year-old Jefferson County lawmaker and Watertown-area business owner, or Susan M. Duffy, a St. Lawrence County business owner and shortlisted candidate for the Conservative party.
In interviews on Sunday, Mr. Gray and Ms. Duffy said they felt confident for the final days of the primary race, saying they had both seen a lot of enthusiasm and support from voters so they roamed the area.
“I spent 12 hours a day most of the time walking through the district talking to constituents, whether it was a farmer, a teacher, a prison officer, in any case, I I listened to their message and I learned,” Ms. Duffy said. “It made me even more passionate than the day I announced.”
Mr. Gray said he has seen people react positively to his campaign.
“I’ve laid out the strategy to stay positive, highlight my 20-year track record, understanding that I have the better CV of the two people for this job,” he said.
During the campaign, both candidates said voters were talking about similar, but not identical, issues.
Mr. Gray said he had heard a lot about the Second Amendment, bail and prison reforms and economic development.
Economic development is of particular concern to voters in St. Lawrence County, he said, and ranked as the most important election issue he heard during his campaign.
“We need to create opportunities for people, that’s clear in St. Lawrence County, and an immediate priority,” he said.
St. Lawrence County voters are also particularly concerned about the future of the State University of New York’s two campuses in Potsdam and Canton. Both have experienced financial stressors and county residents want to maintain a strong academic foundation.
Revitalization efforts in coastal towns in Jefferson County — like Sackets Harbor, Clayton and Alexandria Bay — need to be replicated in coastal towns in St. Lawrence County, Gray said. He sees waterfront development as key to the future economic growth of the River District.
Likewise, he said people are concerned about property tax rates and said efforts must be made to reduce tax rates for all residents of the state.
On gun control, he said he continued to be concerned about efforts to restrict access to guns and said he would not support any future legislation limiting the guns people can own.
Ms Duffy said she heard from constituents about the national economy, prison and bail reforms and education.
She said people are suffering from high inflation and high fuel prices; those concerned about the criminal justice system following recent efforts to ease bail conditions; and people worry about their children’s academic success. She said pandemic-related learning deficits are likely to be big problems for schools over the next few years, and Albany needs to focus on closing that gap.
Social issues in schools are also of concern to Ms. Duffy and constituents she spoke to. She said recent school board meetings, locally and across the country, demonstrate that parents do not want their children educated about social issues in school. She blamed Albany lawmakers for pushing narratives in public schools.
“I’ve spoken to principals, I’ve spoken to teachers, a lot of them aren’t comfortable with the things that are being pushed on an Albany curriculum basis,” she said. “I think it’s something that has to come down to the parents.”
Both candidates are already planning what they want to do if they reach Albany.
Ms Duffy wants to push for changes to the bail reform and prison reform laws that were recently passed by the legislature. Under bail reform laws that came into effect in 2020, the number of crimes for which an impeachment judge could hold someone in jail has been drastically reduced. Conservatives blamed the shift for spikes in crime seen during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
More recently enacted prison reforms aimed at reducing the use of solitary confinement and increasing programs in prisons to reform, rather than punish, inmates have also been the subject of conservative condemnation, with some arguing that new laws have led to an increase in the rate of prison violence and hard labor. working conditions of prison staff.
“Bail reform is highest on my list,” Ms. Duffy said. “I want to go after this first and I’m going to continue to inundate them with information that as these numbers continue to rise, correctional staff resigning, being attacked, this needs to be addressed.”
Mr. Gray said his first priority if he reached Albany would be to find new uses for the now-closed Ogdensburg and Watertown jails, and to ensure that other state-owned properties in St. Lawrence are well maintained.
“Something needs to be done to reallocate these correctional facilities, and the properties at the Ogdensburg Psychiatric Center need attention, which will require state assistance,” he said.
Mr Gray said behavioral and mental health programs need to be supported, and he said he saw a link between bail and prison reforms and mental health.
“We seem to be reducing the number of people in prisons, which is putting people out on the street, increasing the need for behavioral health services,” he said.
The decisions of the United States Supreme Court this month have changed the political landscape of the nation.
In New York, the court ruling struck down a century-old law that restricted who could carry a gun in public. The Legislature has been called back by Governor Kathleen C. Hochul to pass new legislation to close the gap, but Mr. Gray and Ms. Duffy said that, given the chance, they would no longer support legislation restricting possession of firearms.
Mr. Gray said that in his business he does not have policies that would punish 98% of his customers for the bad actions of the remaining 2%, and said he has the same principle for owning fire arms.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to penalize law-abiding citizens in order to focus on illegal weapons,” he said. “I think we have to focus on crime.”
Ms Duffy referenced a recent situation in West Virginia where a gunman attempting to open fire at a large birthday party was shot and killed by an armed bystander who was legally carrying his own handgun .
“A mentally sane person who owns a gun and has it on their person will save lives, it’s as simple as that,” she said.
The Supreme Court on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade of 1973 which protected the right to abortion throughout the country. A patchwork of laws across the country went into effect, with some states banning the procedure altogether and others, such as New York, allowing it under conditions similar to those authorized by Roe.
Proponents of the ruling said the issue can now be legislated by states. In New York, changes to the law are unlikely. Mr Gray and Ms Duffy said they would vote against allowing abortions if given the chance.
“I have made it clear throughout the campaign that I am a ‘pro-life’ candidate,” Ms Duffy said. “At this time, we must recognize that this is a painful subject for the whole country, and we must call on our leaders to stop inciting violence.”
Mr Gray said he was also opposed to abortion in most cases, but reiterated that it is unlikely to become a major issue for the New York legislature in the near future.
“I would go back to my ‘pro-life’ position, that’s my personal belief,” he said. “I’m never in favor of the idea of taking life, whether it’s abortion or the death penalty.”
As Mr. Gray and Ms. Duffy face off in a primary, their race may not end there. Ms Duffy secured the Conservative Party ballot without a primary and pledged to continue her campaign after the primary regardless of the results. If she wins, she will have both the Republican and Conservative line unchallenged. If she loses, she will remain the Conservative candidate against Mr Gray as the Republican candidate.
Mr Gray said he was not worried about running a longer race, but considers Ms Duffy’s position to ignore the wishes of Republican voters.
“I didn’t file any petitions for conservatives because it became clear that this would be a Republican-only race, with no further opposition,” he said. “It was my intention all along to respect the choice of Republican voters here.”
Ms Duffy said she was proud to have the support of the Conservative Party in the general election. She said she sees herself as the right choice for this job and wants to keep fighting no matter what.
“If I thought Scott Gray was the right choice for this office, I would have supported him from the start,” she said.
Polling places in the 116th District and statewide will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., with preliminary results expected within hours of the polls closing. With more than a week of early voting and mail-in ballots to count, an official and total tally of all primary results may take a few days to finalize.