Before Sullivan County Legislator, Dr. David Sager, (District 1) took the podium at his press conference this afternoon, he arranged a pair of yellow and blue campaign signs on either side of the podium. The signs proclaimed, “Sager for State Senate. No nonsense. Honest Leadership.”
Literally, the announcement may change the face of NYS Senate District 42.
Not only did Sager announced his intention to challenge long-time incumbent Republican John Bonacic, but he will do it as a Democrat.
Sullivan County Democratic Chair, Steve Wilkinson, introduced Dr. Sager and welcomed Delaware County’s Democratic Chairwoman Cindy Lockrow-Schimmerling and various other Democratic Party notables.
“I’d like to address the large elephant in the room,” Mr. Wilkinson began. “David is changing his political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. This is not an opportunistic change but a a philosophical change,” Mr. Wilkinson continued to loud applause. “To borrow from Winston Churchill, ‘There’s nothing wrong with change as long as it’s in the right direction.’ Democrats wholeheartedly welcome David to the Democratic Party. For too long the New York State Senate has been the log jam to realizing change in New York. It has been mired in its own personal politics.”
Obviously, it was not just any elephant Mr. Wilkinson was talking about. Dr. Sager has held his Sullivan County Legislative seat as a Republican. In order for him to face Bonacic as a Democrat in a General Election, he must get the nod from the Democratic Chairs of the four counties which comprise District 42: Sullivan, Ulster, Delaware and a piece of Orange.
Ulster County Legislator, Susan Zimet (D, District 10) campaigned against John Bonacic in 2006. Although her effort fell short by roughly 12,000 votes, it was a strong showing against the then-16-year incumbent. (Bonacic first became a member of the New York State Assembly in 1990 and has served in the NYS Senate since 1998.) Zimet’s 2006 campaign website is still up and available for viewing here.
Dr. Sager’s opening remarks perhaps signaled the tone he hopes to strike during the upcoming campaign. “During the course of my service on the Sullivan County Legislature, I have been honest and passionate. I have not been afraid of issues that were unpopular or complex. If you liked me as a Republican, you will like me even more as a Democrat. I will contuinue to champion fair and just causes and it won’t matter to me if an idea is Republican or Democratic as long as it’s a good idea. After years of consideration, I have changed my party enrollment and have done so in good conscience. I still stand for fiscally responsible and accountable government but my social views have evolved and are more in concert with core Democratic Party values.”
Taking on some who have criticized him for verbal gaffs, Sager said, smiling at The Times-Herald Record’s reporter, “I have a reputation for having a salty tongue — per The Times-Herald Record. I will continue to be candid and fight for what’s right. I will put the people first. Our state government is broken…and our current State Senator is a long-time part of the problem. Unfunded state mandates have crippled local governments and placed the burden on local taxpayers.”
“State Senator Bonacic advocates for unfettered gas drilling. I want a society and government that asks at what price do we support industrial development that is potentially lethal to us all. At what point do we say no to large corporations who put their profits first? Gas drilling must be safe, legal, economically beneficial to all and subject to local controls. We must take a hard look at a comprehensive Environmental Protection Agency study of gas drilling. We must support the Englebright bill which will institute a drilling moratorium in New York State until 120 days after the EPA releases the results of its study. It’s a simple, sensible bill. We can wait for the science. We have a responsibility to provide safe drinking water to our children and families…. Safe drinking water is a right not a privilege. Senator Bonacic has been misguided [about gas drilling] while I have been demanding a rational approach. There must be a return to local control. ‘Drill, baby, drill’ is a slogan not a policy.”
At a recent County Legislature meeting, Dr. Sager said that the drilling issue should not pit farmers against non-farmers. “It’s not an agricultural issue. It’s about the industrialization of New York.”
“We must ask, ‘Will the growth we advocate be sustainable? How will New York State and District 42 grow?’ The 42nd District is in the process of becoming an important economic link to New York City — an important link to a sustainable lifestyle — industrially, personally and agriculturally.”
On other topics, Dr. Sager reminded the audience, “I have sponsored sweeping and meaningful ethics reform for Sullivan County and I will be at the head of it in New York State.”
“I will champion property tax reform and will be joining Sullivan County Treasurer, Ira Cohen, in continuing to review tax exempt policies. Large tracts of land and living complexes end up off the tax rolls. People cannot continue to vacation in the 42nd district for free.”
“I will fight for our schools, teachers and students so students can afford the college education they need and I’m determined to ensure our region has the infrastructure it will need to benefit small businesses.”
“I’m going to need your help. We need people who passionately support our cause. We need volunteers who will go door-to-door. Please contact us at: email@example.com until we get our website up and running which will be very soon.”
After his prepared remarks, Breathing asked Dr. Sager what he had to say about local drilling issues and ethics reform.
“The county is in the process, because of my fierce prodding, of completely re-doing our ethics policy. As to drilling, I have not taken an anti approach but there has been a general and blind pursuit of drilling without a necessary analysis of the science. DEC’s [NYS Department of Environmental Conservation] employees have said the draft Supplemental Generic Impact Study is seriously flawed and no local official should be questioning that statement.”
Dr. Sager was also asked how changing his political party affiliation will affect his status with the Sullivan County Legislature. “I’ve got a great working relationship with Jonathan [Rouis] and Woody [Elwin Wood]. I intend to caucus as a Democrat.”
A member of the public asked, “Are you going to support green technology that will help us avoid dependence on Middle East oil?” and Dr. Sager reiterated, “I want to turn the 42nd District into an area that promotes green technology. It’s how we’re going to grow our area.”
When Breathing asked a Sager supporter about the candidate’s “salty tongue” remark, the long-time patient of “Dr. Dave” said, “Does he step in it sometimes? Yeah. He’s a passionate guy. He’s not always smooth but that’s why I like him. He does his homework and doesn’t have a lot of patience for political games.”
For information on the amounts of money NYS Senator Bonacic has raised in the past, comprehensive postings have been made available FROM PROJECT VOTE SMART and FROM THE DAILY KOS. Dr. Sager should hold on to his hat because both sites have published campaign war chest figures for the Senator in the $700,000 range.