David Valesky, the Senator for New York State’s 49th District, is a “nice guy,” said one of his likely 2010 opponents:
“I will be the first to acknowledge that our incumbent senator is a nice guy.”
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I don’t much care if he’s a sweetheart – David Valesky is unashamedly weak on education.
Last year I gave Valesky a grade of C- on the education portion of his public candidate questionnaire. His opponent James DiStefano pulled an F – but that’s because DiStefano didn’t bother to submit a response. As always, no response constitutes failure.
Valesky made it clear last year that he had no interest in reforming education funding. When asked about funding, he pointed to cuts everywhere else, reconstructing government and reforming Medicaid:
“As the state faces an extreme fiscal crisis, my goal remains to reduce state government spending without impacting education. I have already voted for $1 billion in state spending cuts at the August special session. I anticipate we will do more in the upcoming special session, including efforts to consolidate state government and taking a hard look at the Medicaid system.”
Valesky seemed to believe then – as he does now – that an issue as serious as funding education can be resolved not by addressing it head-on, but by fixing every other serious issue around it. Common sense suggests that approach is overwhelming and ineffective.
I admire Valesky’s honesty on this issue as much now as I did then. He’s badly misguided, but he’s up front about it:
“While I have also supported capping property taxes, I believe cutting state education funding is the wrong answer, as this will only increase the burden on property tax payers and negatively impact education and its critical role in our economic recovery.”
Valesky doesn’t mention reforming education funding or even investigating any aspects of it to ensure that current expenditures are useful. It doesn’t even occur to him that funding can be cut at the state and local levels and not be replaced needlessly. I’d be more forgiving if this was a live interview; it wasn’t. He and his staff had plenty of time to think about this one – and this was the best they could do. No cuts, no examination, nothing – just spend, because, after all, it’s for the children.
That’s what a nice guy would say.
It was with great relief that I read Valesky will be challenged by at least two candidates come 2010. Andrew Russo, a well-regarded pianist who is also an artist-in-residence at Le Moyne College, has announced that he’ll stand in the GOP primary for Valesky’s seat. Jessica Crawford has also announced; she’s a young Upstate native whose background includes work with 40 Below, an organization dedicated to halting the “brain-drain” of intellectual and social capital that’s ravaging Upstate New York.
Russo is 34, Crawford is 31. If it’s one thing the Leatherstocking Region needs, it’s strong, young leadership. On that account, both challengers look good.
It’s still early. We’ll see how things play out with Russo, Crawford, Valesky and anyone else who tosses their name in the hat. Hopefully they’ll address public education a bit more fully – and with a bit more competence – than Valesky has, as evidenced by his weak performance and poor rhetoric. I don’t expect him to change; Valesky doesn’t even address public education with any gusto on his State Senate page. [Perhaps 2010 will bring Valesky's second Tweet, too.]
Good luck, Crawford and Russo – your heartbeats and warm bodies have already launched you both ahead of the flaccid Valesky. I’ll take a good Senator over a nice guy any day.