Local Democratic politicians have split between striving to protect communities from President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s ideals and searching for the silver lining in the wake of what Republican Assemblyman Steven McLaughlin (R,C,I-Troy) calls “the greatest political upset in history.”
While it seemed last week that a win by Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton was more secure, the reality of the election results leaves Democratic legislatures to contend with a president that appears to be hostile toward progressive policy.
“Right now there is a real possibility we will be in the minority and that means we need to pick up our voices on healthcare and education to protect the citizens of New York,” Senator Neil Breslin (D-Delmar) said. Breslin and his Democratic allies in the legislature hoped to take control of the state senate. Instead it appears they will remain in the minority.
Leaders like Breslin took the last few days to lick their wounds and question what is at stake for the near future. During his campaign, President-Elect Trump promised to deport millions of immigrants, ban Muslims from entering the country and “repeal and replace” President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. He also made a number of comments insulting women and wide swaths of ethnicities. Vice-President Elect Mike Pence is a proud and blatant homophobe. It’s expected that Trump and the Republican-controlled congress will try to privatize Medicare.
To the Democratic leaders of the Capital Region, the protection of those groups and their rights is a major priority.
In a recent interview with New York City cable channel NY1, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a point to reiterate the position of New York state government in maintaining individual and collective human rights in comparison to President-Elect Trump during his campaign.
“We call it community, mutuality, we believe in acceptance. We are the state of immigrants and the state of firsts when it came to individual rights. Women’s rights started here in Seneca Falls . . . environmental rights movement started here, the NAACP started here. . . . So, what we do here in New York in furthering our progressive philosophy makes a difference, not just in New York, but it also stirs the debate nationwide. . . .”
Leading up to the election, Senate Democrats expected a wave of Democratic support for Clinton to win them a number of seats across the state and put them in charge of the chamber. A deal with the Independent Democratic Conference would have been necessary but some considered it pro-forma. Even Cuomo, who has rarely backed Senate Democrats, joined the campaign to some extent.
As of writing, it appears that Senate Democrats fell short in their bid to win control of the chamber—although some hope they could still pick up one seat. Now the burden of Trump-proofing the state will fall to the Assembly and advocates.
Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action, believes that while institutionalized racism and sexism made a huge impact in Trump’s election, the use of such tactics plays off a deep underlying economic fear.
Whether voters felt burned-out or disregarded by the political sphere, the main concern for politicians of both parties appears to center around economic unrest.
Unshackle Upstate Executive Director Greg Biryla said, “For better or for worse, there’s an economic anxiety that the candidates tapped into and a lot of the communities upstate relate to that type of Rust Belt focus that gained the middle-class worker votes.”
“The hope is there but the solutions are not, “ Scharff said.
In turn, Democrats plan to work towards these economic solutions starting at the state level. New jobs are necessary as well as the infrastructure to make those jobs happen, both of which seem to be the President-Elect’s campaign focus.
On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussed infrastructure with President-Elect Trump.
“He is a New Yorker and we talked about issues for New York and the building that we are doing . . . the need to get it done differently, so that it’s actually on time, on budget. You know, Mr. Trump is very much a private sector builder. I’ve built in the private sector also. So, he has a natural orientation toward the needs of this type of urban area. I think that’s a good thing,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo has seen his economic development initiatives wracked by scandal following the indictments of a number of his close allies who were involved in economic development programs. Cuomo will have to overcome that next year to move his new plans forward.
Local politicians see Trump’s plans on a number of issues as coming with strings attached.
“We are concerned about the state funding that will come from the federal government. There is always discretionary federal funding for a wide range of needs such as defense, energy, science research and development, and it is not inconceivable that it may be used in a way that benefits the political party in control,” Albany City Council member Cathy Fahey (D-Ward 7) said.
Looking ahead, officials like Assemblyman John McDonald (D-Green Island) hope to see President-Elect Trump working toward positive change across party lines. Republican representatives, like McLaughlin are trying to assuage fears that Trump will target specific populations, instead they appear focused on Trump’s economic agenda. McLaughlin told The Alt, “Immigration won’t be the number one immediate issue but he campaigned on it. Legal immigrants can’t stand illegal immigration. Everyone is welcome but you have to do it legally. If you don’t secure the borders you don’t have a nation anymore.”
A number of Democrats don’t buy it and plan to spend the next few months figuring out how to support and sure up New York’s policies on freedom of choice, civil rights, housing, immigration and education.
“Right now, we all need to pull together. Hopefully this will energize a lot of young people to get involved in local politics,” Fahey said.