ONEONTA – State Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, today grilled state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker on the shortage of vaccines in his district, including Otsego County, during a joint legislative public hearing on the governor’s budget proposal.
“The rural region I represent was forced to shut down – even when most counties had an extremely low number of cases – if any,” said Oberacker, a member of the Senate Health Committee. “Now, with the vaccine being distributed, my district is completely forgotten. What am I supposed to tell my constituents?”
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
This could be the begining of a beautiful friendship.
Fresh from his swearing-in as state Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, in his hometown fire hall at 1:08 p.m. New Year’s Day, the freshman signaled he is planning to collaborate with Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, on two key pieces of legislation:
One, as he promised during the campaign, Oberacker plans to introduce legislation mirroring Salka’s to overturn the Democrats’ bail reform, which has allowed suspects in petty and some less-petty crimes to be immediately released.
Two, the new senator is planning to carry the flag in the upper house for Salka’s counter-legislation to two Democratic bills requiring New Yorkers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or, in one of the bills, face possible detention. “That should be a personal choice,” said Oberacker.
“Peter and I have become good friends,” the second-term assemblyman said Tuesday, Jan. 5, the first day of the 2021 session. “I’m excited about having a member of the Senate to consider and possibly carry our legislation through this session.”
Both men appeared Tuesday morning via Zoom on the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce’s State of the State meeting.
Afterwards, Oberacker, his Chief of Staff (and former campaign manager) Ron Wheeler, and his Communications Director Jeff Bishop headed to Albany, where the senator has been assigned Office 506 in the Legislative Office Building in Empire State Plaza.
Salka was clearing his desk in his Oneida office, planning to head up to Albany Wednesday.
To help continuity between his predecessor, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, who represented Otsego County in Albany for 34 years, the new senator will occupy Seward’s Oneonta office on South Main Street.
He has also kept most of Seward’s staff, except his chief of staff, Duncan Davie, the former Oneonta town supervisor, who retired.
Already, Oberacker said in an interview Monday, Jan. 4, constituents are calling, seeking his assistance.
The foremost issue is COVID-fueled unemployment. “I’ve had many inquiries. A lot of folks are wanting to know what should they do, how they should go about it.” He convened a staff meeting that afternoon “to put together an action plan.”
The second issue came out of the Mohawk Valley, where RemArms, controlled by Roundhill Group LLC, described in news reports as “a group of experienced firearms manufacturing and hunting industry professionals,” is seeking to work around the United Mine Workers in reopening the Ilion plant.
The plant, which has traditionally employed many people from Northern Otsego County, was sold to RemArms when Remington was broken up under the supervision of U.S. Bankruptcy Court, according to www.syracuse.com.
Oberacker said he has been seeking to ensure to clear red tape and allow the plant to reopen as soon as possible.
The new senator attended two days of orientation at the state Capitol in mid-December, “to get to know my fellow senators,” and to get guidance from “the vast knowledge that incumbents have. It harkens back to being a freshman on campus.”
Asked about the chances of overturning bail reform, Salka pointed out that Upstate Democrats like Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-Marcy, support him, suggesting he may win votes from across the aisle on his measure.
“We’re hoping to present these bills” – bail reform and blocking mandatory vaccinations – “and get bi-partisan support,” he said.
Meanwhile, he pointed out, Job One will be “the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the $16 billion deficit,” which has risen from $10 billion in a year due to COVID challenges.