NYS Senator Gaughran reflects on record, excited for economic development funds

NYS Senator Gaughran reflects on record, excited for economic development funds

State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) decided to end his four-year run as senator when he saw the boundaries of the fifth district.

“This was a decision I made pretty quickly once we got the final lines from the special master,” Gaughran said.

While Gaughran, who is also a practicing attorney, decided not to run, he is eager to embrace his duties for the remainder of the year. That includes figuring out ways to spend $350 million in an economic development grant program he helped put in place in the budget.

The grant program is earmarked for local governments and organizations for long-range improvements, including downtown revitalization and other development projects.

“One of the things I’m heavily focused on is working with the governor’s office and colleagues on how to spend that money” which will be authorized between now and the end of the year, he said.

Gaughan also said he plans to work with his staff for the remainder of the year to “help our constituents in as many ways as we can” with issues including unemployment.

He doesn’t have specific plans yet for his activities after he leaves office in January. As a citizen, he will get involved in community issues and speak out.

He said he has already spoken with Linda Beigel Schulman, whose son Scott Beigel, a teacher, was killed in the Parkland school shooting. He said he’d like to help Schulman in her efforts to “continue our fight to pass laws that are going to help us with gun safety.”

Schulman had publicly endorsed Gaughran’s candidacy for senate in 2020.

Partisanship concerns

The senator believes the biggest issue in politics at every level is polarization.

Gaughran suggested that bipartisanship is institutionalized in Albany.

“Republicans show up, feel that their sole responsibility is to be critics,” Gaughran said. He said that while criticism plays an important role in American society, he would have preferred to see more bipartisan efforts to work on legislation.

Republicans routinely voted against a capital budget that included money for improving roads and drainage and providing new sewer systems.

While they voted no, urging that the state couldn’t afford the debt, he said they still appeared at ribbon cuttings.

“I wish they could play more of a role to compromise and get things done,” he added.

Gaughran believes partisanship has prevented some people from speaking out about their own views.

“Just look at [Republican] Congressman [Chris] Jacobs,” Gaughran said.

Jacobs, who represents a heavily Republican district in Buffalo and who received the support of former President Donald Trump (R) and the National Rifle Association when he ran for office said he would back a federal assault weapons ban and place a limit on high-capacity magazines.

He made his comments after the attack in a Buffalo supermarket that killed mostly Black employees and shoppers.

Within a week of Jacobs’s remarks, “Republicans took away his nomination,” Gaughran added.

Reflecting on his role

Gaughran is pleased with several initiatives he supported or led, including election reform that made it easier for people to vote.

When he came into office, New York was ranked 44th in the nation in terms of voter turnout.

The climate change bill established a blueprint to get New York to use more renewable resources by 2030.

“When we passed the Reproductive Health Act in 2019, we were chastised by many Republicans” who thought such efforts were unnecessary in light of the protection offered by the landmark Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision.

After a draft of a Supreme Court decision that appears poised to overturn that decision, Gaughran said that law is “one of the most significant things we did.”

He is also proud of an environmental bill he wrote to protect drinking water and was gratified by the additional school funding he supported.

Lessons learned

One of the most significant lessons he learned occurred in the area of the budget process.

When he first arrived, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) would submit a proposed budget. He and others would spend numerous hours analyzing it. He and his staff would come up with proposals and amendments.

“All of a sudden, this is a final budget” and he had to vote up or down, he said.

After the first year, he learned the process better and when he needed to push to get something added to the budget.

He described Cuomo as being “much more difficult” and that the former governor would “veto things and not even give you the time of day.”

He has a better working relationship with Gov. Kathy Hochul (D).

“She’s doing a great job,” he said. “She inherited a very difficult period of time, not just coming in after Cuomo … but also having to deal with the height of COVID-19.”

As for mental health concerns, Gaughran recalls his first week in Albany. He met with a corrections officer representative who worked in the state prison system. The officer said that half of the incarcerated were there for mental health reasons.

The officer told him that the corrections staff weren’t trained as mental health professionals, even though their jobs forced them to be.

A big part of the problem is that “a lot of people are walking around who need help and can’t find it,” Gaughran said. “They are getting caught up in the criminal justice system.”

Society needs to react accordingly, he said.

As for his best days as a senator, Gaughran suggested it was when he was passing laws for the first time.

“That was pretty cool,” he said.