COOPERSTOWN — The two Republicans seeking to represent the newly drawn 101st Assembly District — a serpent-shaped political turf that stretches from Oneida County to Orange County — are both calling for the ouster of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for his role in trying to settle sexual harassment complaints quietly.
Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, has been outspoken in insisting that Manhattan Democrat Silver should be replaced for quietly approving payouts to two women who say they were the victims of workplace sexual harassment by Assemblyman Vito Lopez, D-Brooklyn.
“I think he maybe made a misstep here,” Tenney, referring to Silver, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. Noting she sits behind Lopez in the Assembly chamber, Tenney added: “I just want to know who else is out there? Who else has this happened to, and had the speaker quietly taken care of it.”
She said the scandal is an example of what can happen when “you have one person in there too long” in a leadership role.
Tenney’s challenger, Mayor Brian Maher of the Orange County village of Walden, said Silver’s actions — now being probed by a state ethics watchdog — were “unconscionable” and should result in his removal as Assembly leader.
But he also accused Tenney of engaging in a “publicity stunt” — suggesting she has failed to speak out when Silver, a trial lawyer associated with a large New York City law firm, oversaw legislation that benefited trial lawyers.
Silver has apologized for his role in keeping the $103,000 payout to two women private. Since he signed off on the payments, two other women have emerged and claimed they were the victims of inappropriate contact by Lopez.
On another issue expected to come before Albany lawmakers in 2013, Tenney and Maher both said they oppose an increase in New York’s minimum wage — currently $7.25 an hour.
“Nothing destroys and kills small business like an increase in the minimum wage — and those are the exact people we’re trying to protect,” Tenney said. She later added, “The market economy is the most objective way to assist people, as opposed to having the subjective hand of government coming in to regulate all the time.”
Maher said the village of Walden has more than 150 small businesses. If the minimum wage were increased, he said, “more businesses would be forced to lay people off.”
Maher and Tenney were both chilly on the controversial natural gas extraction process known as hydrofracking. Maher said he favors keeping a moratorium on fracking in place until there are greater safeguards to protect environmental resources.
Tenney said Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not provided sufficient funding to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to monitor gas drilling to prevent environmental damage. Tenney also predicted that shale gas extraction via hydrofracking will not commence in New York for “at least” 10 years.
The two also agreed that upstate rural school districts have been shortchanged by the formula used to determine state aid to education.
“Upstate New York usually comes out on the short end of the stick,” Tenney said.
Maher said it makes no sense to channel more state resources to downstate regions where there is more affluence.
The new 101st Assembly District — stretching some 125 miles — includes the Otsego County towns of Springfield, Middlefield, Westford and Maryland, and the Delaware County towns of Davenport, Meredith, Delhi, Bovina, Hamden and Andes.
The winner of Thursday’s GOP primary will face Democrat Daniel Carter of Herkimer County.