Education, bureaucracy, economic struggles and gun rights were popular topics of discussion at a town hall held by Marc Molinaro, Republican candidate for governor of New York.
The town hall, which attracted more than 100 voters from across Broome County, was held at the Holiday Inn in Downtown Binghamton. It was one of several stops in Molinaro’s tour of Broome County on Friday, which included visits to Whittaker Farm of Whitney Point, Aiello’s Restaurant in Whitney Point and Crowley Manufacturing in Endicott. During his trip to the area, Molinaro was joined by State Senator Fred Akshar, a Republican who has publicly stated his support for Molinaro’s campaign.
“Since announcing his candidacy in April, this is Marc’s sixth stop in Senate District 52,” Akshar said. “I think that speaks volumes. He’s all over this state; he’s crisscrossing every corner of this state to spread his message.”
Molinaro, who is the current Dutchess County executive, kicked off the town hall by speaking about himself and his platform. He touched on his history as a member of the New York State Assembly and mayor of Tivoli, a village with a population of roughly 1,100 residents. Molinaro also highlighted key portions of his platform, including plans to fix corruption in Albany and lower taxes.
“Let me be very candid with you,” Molinaro said. “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. The governor’s had six or seven close associates, one of his top lieutenants, found guilty of federal corruption charges.”
Although Molinaro’s criticism of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his associates drew laughs of agreement from his audience, once questions were opened to the public, the discussion focused on issues closer to home. Attendees asked Molinaro about his plans to improve special education in public schools, his stance on the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act and his response to the opioid epidemic.
Many shared personal stories while asking questions. One small business owner said she was considering moving out of New York due to high property taxes, and a mother told Molinaro about her family after asking him about his plans to strengthen special education and opportunities for those with learning disabilities.
Molinaro, who has a daughter with autism, said he wants to eliminate Common Core educational standards and offer more vocational training to students. He also hopes to strengthen services for people with disabilities including Medicaid, and called for advocates to help individuals and families.
“We’ve got to make it easier for people to navigate the system and access services,” Molinaro said. “We have to stop demonizing people who rely on those services and, instead, demonize a system that makes it difficult for people to access those services in an effective and efficient way.”
He also voiced his support for second amendment rights and said he supports initiatives to address mental health in schools.
“I say invest in making a difference, which is localizing schools, so you have that symbiotic relationship between school buildings and communities,” Molinaro said. “You know who’s living at risk. [It’s] making sure every school has a school resource officer, not only for protection, but so they can see the signs of trauma and can identify the kid who may act out.”
Logan Blakeslee, 18, of Colesville, said he was encouraged by Molinaro’s thoughts on improving special education in New York.
“Molinaro has inspired me with his ‘ThinkDIFFERENTLY’ program because I was a special ed student myself,” Blakeslee said. “I want to follow in his footsteps and work in Albany to help out students who are like me.”
James Schutzer, 63, who lives in Vestal and owns a small business, was also impressed. He said he appreciated that Molinaro had taken the time to come to the Binghamton area.
“I thought the town hall was very well-received,” he said. “The candidate was very, very sharp.”
At the end of the town hall, Molinaro promised he would be back before and after the election.
“In order to serve the people of New York, you have to know the people of New York, and that really requires me to go to communities that too often feel they’ve been marginalized or that their voices haven’t been heard,” Molinaro said. “I think that it’s very, very critical that as an elected official or candidate, you actually spend time engaged in the conversation, and try to understand truly what people are thinking. That’s how you know them, that’s how you understand them and that’s how you solve problems.”