“I have been very supportive of education issues,” Valesky said in a recent phone interview. “These are the kinds of decisions that you have to make as a legislator.”
Valesky is running for his third two-year term as New York state senator in the 49th Senate District, which covers Madison County and parts of Onondaga, Cayuga and Oneida counties. His opponent is Republican Jim DiStefano. The election is Nov. 4.
The summer 2008 vote to cap property taxes for education cost him the endorsement of the teachers’ union, the New York State United Teachers.
And it was an oddity in the record for Valesky, son of two teachers and husband of a third. His wife, Julie, teaches fourth grade in Oneida and belongs to the 6,000-member union
In his four years as a state senator, he had been a strong supporter of the union. In the broader context of his senate career, Valesky has focused on keeping a high profile among his constituents, bringing money to his district and introducing legislation aimed at creating more open government.
Valesky, 42, is the son of two schoolteachers. He was born and raised in Oneida, where he still lives with his wife, Julie, who is also a teacher, and their three boys. As a math student at the State University of New York Potsdam, he quickly shifted his interest to politics, and won an internship and later as an aide to Michael Bragman, the former assembly majority leader from Cicero. Valesky worked for 10 years at Syracuse’s public television station WCNY. In 2004, he made his first run for the state senate and defeated 20-year Republican incumbent Nancy Larraine Hoffmann.
On his education vote in August, Valesky supported a bill that would have limited the yearly increases in state property taxes spent on education to four percent. It passed the senate 38-20, but did not pass in the assembly. After the vote, the teachers’ union — New York State United Teachers — decided it wouldn’t endorse any of the senators who voted for the measure.
In 2006, Valesky had received the union’s endorsement. Until this summer, Valesky had voted with the union’s interests 100 percent of the time, a union spokesman said.
But now the union is reconsidering its endorsements in the face of potential mid-year budget cuts, said Carl Korn, the union’s spokesman. Senators who voted for the tax cap will have another shot at the union’s endorsement, Korn said, if they oppose the budget cuts.
That’s unlikely to help Valesky win back the union’s approval. Sen. Valesky sees the mid-year budget cuts as necessary, a Valesky spokesman said recently.
When it comes to keeping a local presence, Valesky is well known for a family tradition of eating at Murphy’s Corner, a diner in downtown Oneida. Valesky and his family are regulars there. Lately, he stops in about every other week, said Murphy’s regular Gordon Kruger.
The usual topic of conversation when Valesky gets his lunch? What the people at Murphy’s want him to do in Albany. “Everybody’s got an opinion, everybody’s got a problem, and they shower it on him,” regular customer Kruger said.
A look at Valesky’s member’s items, or money he’s won from the state government for groups within his district, shows strong support for area police and fire departments.
From Valesky’s most recent term, some examples:
$20,000 for the Brewerton Fire District for a rescue boat.
$15,000 for the South Bay Fire Department to upgrade the fire house.
$13,000 for the Smithfield Volunteer Fire Department for firefighting suits.
$10,000 for the Verona Volunteer Fire Department for a burn unit that would support 12 area departments.
$7,000 for the East Syracuse Police Department for computer upgrades and a radar unit.
Of the $600,000 Valesky has garnered in his most recent term, 23 percent — $140,000 — has gone to area police and volunteer fire departments.
A $6,000 check to the Morrisville Fire Department bought three firefighting suits, said Mike Bischoff, treasurer for 30-member department.
“That’s $6,000 our taxpayers don’t have to worry about,” Bischoff said. Valesky has strong support among its members, Bischoff said.
On open government, Valesky has introduced four government-overhaul bills in his most recent term. But they are under review in committees and none has come to a vote yet.
Two bills would make the assembly report more information to the public. One of them would require state officials to file reports with the comptroller when government bonds are issued. The other would make the state legislature subject to New York’s Freedom of Information Law, which gives the public access to government documents of only the executive branch.
Valesky also introduced a bill that he says will help more proposals made by the minority party get to a vote on the legislature floor. The measure, an amendment to the state constitution, would let any legislator sign a bill as a co-sponsor. Currently, legislators can only sponsor bills that originate in their own house.
Another government-overhaul bill Valesky introduced would require the legislature to meet daily if it doesn’t pass a budget before April 1 each year.
By fighting to overhaul government, Valesky said, he is keeping a promise to voters after two successful campaigns running on the issue of government reform. “I’m pleased,” Valesky said, “that anyone would say that my time in office hasn’t changed who I am or what I stand for.”
(Ed Jacovino is a senior majoring in newspaper journalism and anthropology.)
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