Zeldin paints territory within the Blue Line red
By Gwendolyn Craig
On Tuesday New York voters authorized historic environmental borrowing for the first time in 26 years and passed the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022.
The only statewide measure on the ballot, it passed with 59% of the vote, according to the New York State Board of Elections’ unofficial count Wednesday morning. About 29% of voters were against the measure, while 12% left it blank.
Counties in and around the Adirondack Park offered mixed support, according to The New York Times. The majority of voters in Hamilton, Lewis, Herkimer and Fulton counties voted against the bond act, whereas voters in Essex, Franklin, Clinton, Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties were mostly in support. Essex and Hamilton counties are the only two entirely within the Adirondack Park. Hamilton voted against the bond act with 58% against, whereas Essex County voted for it with 60% in favor.
Funding categories include at least $1.1 billion for restoration and flood risk reduction; $650 million for open space and recreation projects; $1.5 billion for climate change mitigation; and $650 million for water quality and water infrastructure. At least 35% of the funds must go to projects in disadvantaged communities.
Environmental and Adirondack Park groups praised the bond act’s passage in a flurry of news releases early Wednesday. The Adirondack Mountain Club’s Executive Director Michael Barrett highlighted its investment “in local communities, land conservation, recreational infrastructure, and job growth.” ADK expects the open space pot of money to fund parks, campgrounds and nature centers, as well as land preservation.
Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, suggested the bond act funds could be used to protect the 36,000-acre Whitney estate in the Hamilton County town of Long Lake, the remainder of private land owned by the late Marylou Whitney and now owned by her widower John Hendrickson.
“It is an important tract that should be protected,” Janeway said. “We expect that it will take both public and private parties working together to produce a plan that protects the tract’s forests, while also respecting some of the historic structures and recreational opportunities that aren’t compatible with wilderness protection.” He brought up that a subdivision is planned on the property and the council wants to stop that.“Yesterday, New York could not really participate,” he said. “Now it can, if a fair market price can be agreed to.”
The Adirondack Park Agency told the Explorer on Oct. 21 that Hendrickson had not contacted the APA recently and had not submitted a pre-application for a subdivision on the land.
Some groups had words of caution in their excitement about the bond act’s approval. The New York Public Interest Research Group continued its call for a program for the state to collect additional money from polluters and pass additional legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“By making the oil and gas companies pay to clean up their climate mess, and passing necessary environmental policies, the state will be on solid footing to meet the urgency of the moment,” said NYPIRG Executive Director Blair Horner. “NYPIRG applauds approval of Proposition #1 and looks forward to working with the governor and the Legislature in approving additional environmental protections.”
It was a twisty road for the environmental spending initiative, first proposed under former Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2020. It was called the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act and priced at $3 billion. Cuomo’s administration pulled it from the ballot in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s finances. After Cuomo’s resignation, Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul took up the proposal and the state Legislature boosted its borrowing and renamed it.
The last environmental bond act passed in New York was under Republican Gov. George Pataki in 1996 with 55% of the vote. The $1.75 billion is nearly spent, though some $82 million remains. The 1996 bond act funded water infrastructure and water-quality projects, major Adirondack land purchases and conservation easements, replaced coal-fired power plants in schools and closed all the landfills in the Adirondacks.
Hochul won the governor’s race against the Republican U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, though Zeldin was a clear favorite in the North Country.
Statewide, Hochul won 52% of the vote and Zeldin won 47%, according to the state Board of Elections’ unofficial tallies Wednesday morning. Populated city hubs in western, central and downstate favored the current governor, but Zeldin won all but 13 of New York’s 62 counties.
With more than 95% of the votes accounted for in the Adirondack Park region, Hamilton County favored Zeldin and he took 71% of the vote, according to the New York Times. Essex County favored Zeldin with 55% of the vote.
Counties that cross into the Blue Line also favored Zeldin. Fulton County awarded Zeldin 72% of the vote, Saratoga County 54%, Washington County 64%, Warren County 56%, Clinton County 57%, Franklin County 61%, St. Lawrence County 66%, Lewis County 81% and Herkimer County 74%.
Hochul is the first elected female governor in New York. She was lieutenant governor for Cuomo from 2015 to 2021. She took over the state’s highest leadership position after Cuomo resigned. The 57th governor of New York said a glass ceiling was shattered Tuesday night, and thanked New Yorkers for their votes.
Federal and state lawmakers
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik kept her seat Tuesday night. The Republican incumbent defeated Democrat challenger Matt Castelli with 59% of the vote, according to unofficial state Board of Election tallies. Stefanik has been in Congress since 2015 and is currently the third-ranking House Republican.
Stefanik kept her hold in most Adirondack Park counties, though the New York Times reported Castelli won over Essex and Clinton counties’ voters.
Another incumbent held his long-time seat in the U.S. Senate. Democrat Charles (Chuck) Schumer was one of the first races called Tuesday night. Schumer, the Senate’s current majority leader, defeated Republican challenger Joe Pinion with nearly 56% of the vote. Schumer has been a senator since 1999.
In the state Senate, incumbent Republican Dan Stec, who represents most of the park in the 45th district, secured another term against Democrat Jean Lapper with about 61% of the vote. State Sen. James Tedisco, a Republican representing the 44th district, also kept his seat against Democrat Michelle Ostrelich.
In the state Assembly, Democrat incumbent Billy Jones retained his position representing the 115th district, beating Republican Stephen Chilton, with unofficial tallies awarding Jones 63% of the vote. In district 114, Republican state Assemblyman Matthew Simpson ran unopposed.