What to watch for in Assembly primaries in the Hudson Valley
A pair of longtime state lawmakers from the Hudson Valley face challenges from fellow Democrats on Tuesday when Assembly primaries are held statewide.
Kevin Cahill, an assemblyman from Kingston who has held office for 26 years, will square off against climate activist Sarahana Shrestha in a Democratic primary for the 103rd Assembly District, which takes in much of Ulster County and two towns in Dutchess County.
The other incumbent with a Democratic primary challenger is Tom Abinanti, a 12-year assemblyman from Greenburgh. He faces Westchester County Legislator MaryJane Shimsky in a race for the 92nd Assembly District, which encompasses a swath of central Westchester.
The Hudson Valley has four Assembly primaries in all on Tuesday, along with statewide primaries for governor and lieutenant governor. The other Assembly primaries are a two-way Republican contest for the 106th District in Dutchess and Columbia counties and a three-way Democratic contest for the 95th District in Westchester and Putnam counties.
Tuesday is the first of two dates this year for New York primaries that normally would be held on one day in June. Primaries for Congress and state Senate were postponed until Aug. 23 because of a court fight over redistricting that led to a second redrawing in May of the state's House and Senate district lines.
The new Assembly lines that Democrats drew before the court case remained intact for this year's election, but must be redone before the 2024 election under a recent ruling by an appeals court judge.
92nd Assembly District – Westchester
Abinanti, the Mount Pleasant Democrat seeking his seventh term in the state Assembly, faces stiff competition from Shimsky, D-Dobbs Ferry.
Abinanti, 75, who chairs the Assembly Committee on People with Disabilities, said he wants another term to continue to deliver for the disabled, those opposed to gun violence, and senior citizens.
Abinanti came to the Assembly in 2003 after serving 19 years on the county Board of Legislators and another six years on the Greenburgh Town Board.
“I’m a Democrat who delivers,” said Abinanti. “I still have the energy.”
Shimsky, 62, is in her sixth and final two-term on the term-limited county legislature and is running with the endorsement of the Westchester County Democratic Committee in the 92nd District. At the county level, she has focused on funding for Westchester infrastructure projects.
She has criticized Abinanti’s position on vaccines. Abinanti in 2015 sponsored a bill, which was not enacted, that would allow parents to claim a “philosophical exemption” to allow their child to not have to become vaccinated to attend school.
He also voted against a 2019 law which removed the religious exemption for school vaccinations.
“Tom is not where we need him to make the public health system work properly,” said Shimsky, a retired attorney.
Abinanti said his work promoting COVID vaccinations for people with disabilities in New York has had an impact, with 90% of those housed in state facilities now vaccinated.
The 92nd Assembly District includes Mount Pleasant, most of Greenburgh, and parts of northwest Yonkers.
95th Assembly District – Westchester/Putnam
The Democratic primary to replace retiring Assemblywoman Sandy Galef in the 95th Assembly District in northwest Westchester and Putnam counties pits Ossining Supervisor Dana Levenberg against Westchester County Legislator Colin Smith and Peekskill grassroots activist Vanessa Agugdelo.
Smith is the only one of the three candidates who failed to submit campaign finance reports to the state Board of Elections. Four days after early voting began, Smith on Wednesday said he expected the disclosures would be submitted by the weekend, so voters can see from whom he raised as much $100,000 for the race.
By Saturday, however, Smith's campaign reported just two contributions of more than $1,000, which were received within 30 days of the election: $2,500 from the NY state Laborers PAC, and $4,700 from Deborah Giordano of Yorktown.
Smith, 48, elected to the county Legislature in 2019, previously served on the Peekskill Common Council and Peekskill Board of Education. He said he raised money from family, friends, contractors and unions to pay for his political consultant and districtwide mailings.
“I had issues with my fundraiser,” Smith said on Wednesday, six days before election day. “We are getting it filed within two days.”
Levenberg, 57, who was Galef’s chief of staff for seven years before her election as Ossining supervisor in 2015, comes to the race with considerable experience in local government, having also served three terms on the Ossining Board of Education.
In mid-June, she reported $96,000 in her campaign account, with her largest donation – $12,000 – from her stepfather, Murray Azaria, of Palm Beach, Florida.
As supervisor, she said she has focused on “building healthy communities environmentally, economically, and physically, all through the lens of equity.”
Agudelo, 30, a first-generation immigrant who is unemployed and on Medicaid, said it’s important to have candidates for public office who can speak to that experience. She said she’d like to make history as Westchester’s first Latina representative in Albany. Agudelo, who has support from the Lower Hudson Valley chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, supports the New York Health Act, which would bring universal health care to all New Yorkers.
In mid-June, she had $60,000 in her campaign account, with contributions mostly from small donors, with her biggest donation – $4,700 – from the Courage to Change PAC, which is affiliated with Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-Bronx.
The 95th District runs along the Hudson from Ossining north to Philipstown, and includes Peekskill, Cortlandt Manor, Briarcliff Manor, Buchanan, Croton-on-Hudson, Cold Spring, Nelsonville and part of Yorktown.
103rd Assembly District – Ulster/Dutchess
Cahill, 66, is defending his Assembly seat with endorsements from a string of Democratic elected officials, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan and former Rep. Antonio Delgado, who became lieutenant governor last month.
Shrestha, 41, a Nepali immigrant and graphic designer from Esopus, has been endorsed by the progressive Working Families Party, which ensures she will compete in the Nov. 8 general election on the Working Families ballot line, regardless of the outcome of the Democratic primary.
The 103rd District takes much of Ulster County and the towns of Rhinebeck and Red Hook in Dutchess and is heavily Democratic terrain, with enrolled Democratic voters outnumbering Republicans by a ratio of more than 2 to 1. Patrick Sheehan is the Republican candidate for the seat in the Nov. 8 election.
106th Assembly District – Dutchess/Columbia
Republican voters will choose between newcomers Brandon Gaylord and Dean Michael as their party's nominee to take on Democratic Assemblywoman Didi Barrett in the 106th District.
Michael, 61, is a former Clinton town councilman in Dutchess County who lost a race against Barrett in 2020. Gaylord, 36, lives and serves on the planning board in Chatham in Columbia County and teaches history at Green Tech High Charter School in Albany.
Gaylord has the Conservative Party nomination, which earns him a spot on the Nov. 8 general election ballot regardless of who wins the Republican primary.
Chris McKenna covers government and politics for the Times Herald-Record and USA Today Network. Reach him at [email protected]