Campaigns & Elections

Two familiar names battle for state Senate seat

The open seat in the Capital Region is up for grabs.

Michelle Hinchey, daughter of late U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, is hoping to turn the 46th state senate district blue this year.

Michelle Hinchey, daughter of late U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, is hoping to turn the 46th state senate district blue this year. Dion Ogust

State Sen. George Amedore’s retirement has turned a Republican upstate district into a pickup opportunity for Democrats in November. Michelle Hinchey, daughter of late U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, is hoping to turn the district blue this year, while Republican candidate Richard Amedure, a recently retired state trooper, is vying for the seat that currently belongs to his distant relative.

Hinchey launched her campaign last September, initially hoping to oust Amedore. Amedore announced his retirement a few months later, improving Hinchey’s odds of flipping the district, which has been under Republican control since 2015.

A lot has changed in state politics since Amedore was elected, including the composition of the state Senate. Republicans narrowly controlled the chamber in 2014; now Democrats have 40 of its 63 seats – Republicans have just 20, with three current vacancies. Democrats are just two seats shy of a supermajority that could theoretically override a gubernatorial veto. 

In an interview with City & State, Hinchey said that, despite these developments, not enough has changed in the 46th District, which spans parts of Greene, Ulster, Schenectady, Montgomery, and Albany counties in the Capital Region. “Our area, upstate New York, the 46th District, still faces the same issues six years later with George Amedore in the seat. Rich is more of the same,” she said. 

Referring to the downstate-heavy Democratic conference, Hinchey added, “I think it’s so critically important that we have more upstate voices in that majority conference. If elected, I’ll be in the room. I’ll be at the table.”

Hinchey, 32, has garnered support from the Democratic Party and has been endorsed by a number of prominent politicians, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Antonio Delgado whose Hudson Valley and Catskills district overlaps with part of the state Senate district. Hinchey’s campaign has raised more than $250,000 so far,according to her campaign’s financial disclosures. 

Hinchey, 32, grew up in Saugerties, a town on the Hudson River. After graduating college she pursued a career in communications in New York City, a decision she attributes to the lack of job opportunities in her own community. She said she felt compelled to run for office after her father, a former member of Congress, fell ill. “It was a crash course, for me, in just how broken our healthcare system is,” she said. “As a congressman, you’d think he’d have some of the best health insurance, and we had to sell land to pay for his healthcare. If that’s what we’re going through, what is everybody else going through?”

Although Hinchey was initially one of three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, she was the only Democrat on the ballot by election time. One challenger, Jeff Collins,dropped out and endorsed Hinchey in December. Another, Gary Greenberg, was removed from the ballot after a lawsuit – which theAltamont Enterprise, a regional publication, reported was financed by Hinchey’s campaign – revealed he had not received enough valid signatures to run. 

Amedure, meanwhile, didn’t have to worry about winning a primary election. He wasunanimously endorsed by the Republican chairs of the five counties in the district, clearing the field for him to run. Amedure began working as a state trooper in 1989, according to the Enterprise, and has worked in Greene and Ulster counties and previously served on the town board of Rensselaerville, where he lives and owns a farm. 

Amedure’s campaign and the New York state Republican Senate Campaign Committeedid not respond to repeated requests for comment. In a Februaryinterview with the Altamont Enterprise, Amedure argued that keeping the seat in GOP hands would give upstate more influence. “One-party rule for one part of the state is unsustainable,” Amedure said. “I want to lead the effort to get upstate voices heard in government.”

The former state trooper, who retired a few weeks before launching his campaign, has the support of both the outgoing senator. He also has been endorsed by some local officials, including Michael Bulich, a member of the Greene County legislature. “We just can’t pay any more taxes – our taxes go up every year, property and school. The income taxes, and the fees and regulations we pay, we just can’t keep going like this. That’s why I endorsed Rich,” Bulich told City & State. “I met Michelle one time last year, and she seems like a really nice lady – but she’s not really from this area. She left this area, she lived in New York (City), and moved back up here.”

Hinchey, however, argues that she’s one of thousands of young people who grew up in the district and had to move away for economic opportunities elsewhere. Creating more upstate jobs has become a linchpin of her campaign. “I was forced, when I graduated college in 2009, to move because there were no jobs anywhere, especially in upstate New York,” she said. “I want to make sure that people, other kids, my friends’ kids can stay here and can grow up and live and find meaningful work in the communities they grew up in.”

Amedure and Hinchey are largely highlighting the same issues – jobs, infrastructure and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – but have different perspectives on how to tackle them. Like Hinchey, Amedure has expressed concern about the lack of opportunities for young people who want to stay in the area. “I have two children, ages 26 and 24,” hetold the Altamont Enterprise. “There are fewer opportunities for them to stay here.” Amedure has suggested that lowering property taxes could help keep people upstate.

Hinchey, on the other hand, has emphasized the need for expanded broadband internet access, better infrastructure and green jobs. “We should be leading the way in green job development – white-collar jobs and blue-collar jobs. We could be doing so much of that here,” Hinchey told City & State. She added that she’s hopeful her ideas will draw voters to her regardless of party affiliation. “We all want the same things,” she said. “We all want access to a decent job, we all want to be able to put food on the table, and we want our kids to get a decent education regardless of where we live.”

Despite Hinchey’s strength as a candidate, experts don’t give her better than even odds because voters in the area have leaned Republican in recent years. “There are a lot of incumbents that are seen as vulnerable, and there are some people looking to flip seats that are seen as pretty sure things,” a Democratic operative, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the race, told City & State. “This race is probably a tier below that. There’s a couple races that I feel like are a sure thing to flip this year. This one is not one of them. It’s still a fairly uphill battle.”

Amedure has the blessing of the outgoing senator and plenty of support from local officials, but far less cash on hand. He has raised just over $90,000 so far, about one-third of which came from individual donors disclosure forms show

As The New York Times noted, there are nearly 20,000 more registered Democrats in the district than there are Republicans, which could give Hinchey an edge. But Amedore beat his Democratic challenger in 2016 by more than 24 points, and Republicans generally have an advantage at both the state and federal level in the district. Voters there largely supported President Donald Trump in 2016 and opposed Gov. Cuomo in 2018. Voters in Greene County, one of the two counties that is entirely in the district, preferred Trump by a 27-point margin in 2016. Marc Molinaro, Cuomo’s 2018 opponent, won the county by more than 30 points in 2018 despite losing in a landslide statewide.

Amedore, the outgoing senator, is one ofseveral Republican legislators leaving the chamber this year, creating the possibility of even more Democratic control of the state Senate, which would match the party’s supermajority in the Assembly. Michael Malbin, a professor of political science at the University of Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs, said this year’s elections could change the dynamics of state politics for years to come. “The question is, can they pick up two [seats] statewide? Well, that looks like a pretty good possibility,” Malbin said. “When the governor enters three persons in a room negotiations with the Senate and Assembly, he will have less bargaining power in that situation, and I expect that would affect a fair number of issues.”

Malbin added that the effects of these elections will be felt for more than just one legislative session. “The big story is whether the Republicans can come back over the next several cycles. They are very far down,” he said. “They’re at a point now, where they’re so far down, that they have lost their leverage in redistricting in the next cycle. They’re going to feel that for the next 10 years, and they’re going to feel it in the state Senate and in Congress.”