ONEONTA – State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, has joined a bipartisan group of state legislators urging an investigation of why jobless New Yorkers can’t get benefits to which they’re entitled.
“While some of the millions of the state’s unemployed have begun receiving benefits, millions more have not only not received benefits but can’t get through to the Department of Labor by phone or email,” according to a statement from Seward and three other Central New York solons.
I want to start this week’s column with a heartfelt THANK YOU to all who have reached out to me and my wife Cindy over the past few weeks as we both battled the Novel Coronavirus. Your well wishes and prayers meant a great deal and gave us both strength during our fight against this sinister virus.
As the pandemic continues there are so many on the front lines that are deserving of our respect, admiration, and thanks. Nurses, doctors, first responders, police, corrections officers, grocery store and pharmacy workers, truck drivers, and many others are risking their health and spending countless hours away from their families to help our state and nation endure through these difficult times.
I understand many are struggling with health and economic issues. There are no easy solutions moving forward and additional aid will have to come from the state and federal levels to help with our recovery.
Already, I have joined with my Senate Republican colleagues to push for a couple of key actions.
First, a letter was sent to the U.S Department of Agriculture calling for assistance for our farmers.
Agriculture is New York’s top industry and vital to our health and way of life. Unfortunately, in the best of times, farming can be a struggle and the Coronavirus is taking a devastating toll on many farms.
The letter reads in part:
“New York dairy farmers need urgent assistance. To be clear, they are not looking for a handout, and they are not in this grim position because of their own failure. Government action to respond to COVID-l9 — while necessary — has artificially eliminated the natural demand for dairy products, so it is the duty of government to rectify the situation and help dairy farmers remain financially viable in this difficult time. For this reason, we look to USDA for help.”
The recently passed CARES Act appropriates $9.5 billion to USDA, and we urge you to use that funding for direct financial assistance to farms who have faced harm because of COVID-l9.
Additionally, we urge the Department to make purchases of dairy products like fluid milk, butter, cheeses, and dry milk powders. Direct commodity support and export assistance would also help farms manage their decreased domestic demand.
At a time when so many Americans are out of work, more individuals are turning to food pantries for their next meal. However, many food pantries lack cold storage space to keep milk products fresh.
This is an excellent opportunity to create a voucher program for people in need through the Milk Donation Program, as authorized under the 2018 Farm Bill, to facilitate the distribution of donated milk through grocery stores and other venues. Doing so would help poor Americans keep food on the table, and also add demand for dairy farmers.
Late last week, the USDA announced $16 billion in direct support for farmers in need. Another $3 billion will be used to purchase meat, dairy products, fruit and vegetables with excess food going to food banks. This is a big win.
Additionally, I am calling on the governor to release scheduled raises for essential state workers. The state is delaying the 2 percent raises for 80,000 individuals who are on the front lines, and in some cases, performing very dangerous jobs.
The letter reads in part:
“Recognizing this service in these unprecedented times, then, I appreciate this opportunity to urge you to immediately provide an exemption for essential workers unable to work from home, and unable to take adequate social distancing precautions on the job, from your freeze of their scheduled two-percent salary increase. These include corrections officers, law enforcement officers, nurses and other public hospital staff, and direct caregivers in nursing and group homes, and mental health care facilities.”
These are just a couple of elements. I will be highlighting many others as we continue to respond to this health crisis.
MILFORD – As with everything since the coronavirus arrived in Otsego County, things moved quickly.
When the last edition of this newspaper went to press on Tuesday, March 31, the news was state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, and his wife, Cindy, had been stricken with COVID-19.
It was announced the day before that the senator was being treated at Albany Medical Center, and Cindy was recuperating at their Milford home.
Duncan Davie, Seward’s long-time chief of staff, said the senator was still in ICU this Tuesday. April 7. He spoke with the senator, and “he struck me as someone who’s gone through a great deal. He’s got a road to recovery that will take some time.”
After the initial report on March 30, the senator, a Milford native who has represented Otsego County in the state Senate since 1985, took a turn for the worse and was placed on a ventilator in Albany Med’s intensive care unit.
That wasn’t widely known, until Cindy Seward broke the silence at 8:32 a.m. Saturday, April 4, on the Milford Community Group Facebook page. She revealed her husband was in a medically induced coma and had been on a ventilator since 5:30 a.m. that Thursday.
“His condition had deteriorated quite rapidly and became dire,” his wife of 46 years reported. “I spoke with the doctor last evening and Jim is responding to nurse commands and his condition is slightly improved.
“The next few days are crucial,” she continued. “My children and I were able to see him and speak to him once via Webex, thanks to the kindness of the doctors and nurses there.”
That dire report set off a flurry of comments among the Milford group, mostly expressions of prayerful best wishes.
After a day of worry among his friends and supporters, who at this point were expecting the worst, stunning good news arrived with Cindy Seward’s next posting at 6:48 p.m. that evening.
“I just spoke with my husband,” she wrote, “and needed to share with all of you wonderful people who have sent prayers and love: His ventilator was just removed! Of course, he will still need monitoring, but I thank you all for your outpouring for us!”
Which set off another outpouring from around Seward’s nine-county 51st Senatorial District on the Milford page and www.AllOTSEGO.com.
“Praise God for giving you the strength to fight this terrible virus and that strength to continue fighting thru your cancer battle,” wrote Maria Guerra, Richfield Springs.
“Stay strong my friend!” declared Vinnie Avanzato, Oneonta, the former Stella Luna proprietor.
“You are one strong individual,” wrote Norman Buckland, Oneonta. “That’s why we elected you to show us the way. But I never wanted it to be like this. Thank you for hanging in there.”
ALBANY – State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, this afternoon released a list of state websites to help his constiuents to connect with state services to fight the Coronavirus infection, or to deal with its impacts, such as job loss.
ONEONTA – State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, will be the Otsego County Chamber’s Eugene A. Bettiol Jr. Distinguished Citizen of 2020, and Custom Electronics the NBT Bank Distinguished Business Of The Year, the chamber announced this afternoon.
Seward and the high-tech battery company will be toasted Thursday, May 7, in the Foothills Atrium, beginning with a cocktail hour at 5:45 p.m.
One of the more controversial pieces of legislation signed into law last year was the “Green Light” Law, allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses.
Presented by its supporters as the “same law” adopted in other states, New York’s version contained a provision that prevents the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other border-protection agencies from accessing records contained in the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) – something no other state does.
I voted against the “Green Light” Law because the thought of giving a driver’s license, a secure identification document, to someone who is intentionally breaking the law was inconceivable.
Now we are seeing additional consequences of this bad public policy – putting law enforcement agents
and the public at risk while shielding criminals from detection.
Recently, I joined with members of the state Senate and Assembly for a special DHS briefing detailing how New York’s law is blocking law enforcement agencies from receiving critical information.
According to a fact sheet provided by DHS:
• New York State’s “Green Light” Law prevents U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) from accessing all New York DMV information. This includes driver’s license information essential to our law enforcement and national security missions.
• By restricting access to all DMV information, the “Green Light” Law stands as a dangerous and unnecessary roadblock to ongoing federal investigations into a broad range of criminal activity, and severe impediment to our officers and agents in the field.
• ICE is not asking the State of New York to provide a list of illegal aliens, or to identify which individuals in its database are here illegally. ICE needs access to the information – just like all other law-enforcement agencies that work in the state – whether the subject of our inquiry is a U.S. citizen, a lawful permanent resident, or illegal alien.
• Seventy percent of joint terrorism task force disruptions stem from arrests for immigration violations, yet the agency responsible for those arrests is now frozen out of New York DMV databases. This is a pre-9/11 mentality in a post-9/11 world.
•ICE’s need to access DMV records is essential to supporting criminal investigative efforts not only in New York, but also across the country and around the world. Our ability to identify and dismantle transnational criminal organizations – whether they’re flooding our communities with killer drugs like fentanyl and meth, trafficking weapons, peddling sensitive military technology, or selling women and children into miserable lives of sexual servitude – depends on getting the right piece of information into the right hands at the right time. And often, that piece of information is as simple as a license plate, and address, or a photograph.
The statistics back up the importance of the long-standing, cooperative relationship between ICE and state DMV. On a daily basis, ICE uses DMV data to fight a substantial number of crimes including drug smuggling, human trafficking and violent gang activity. In 2019, ICE arrested 149 child predators, seized 6,487 pounds of illegal narcotics, identified or rescued 105 victims of human trafficking/exploitation, and arrested 230 gang members – in New York alone.
The new law has also handcuffed local law enforcement. The state Sheriffs’ Association recently issued a letter to the governor and legislative majorities pointing out that for the sheriffs to keep their own officers safe by allowing access to DMV data, they had to sign non-disclosure agreements that jeopardize their federal partners.
Sharing of information is a critical component of law enforcement. New York State has taken an irresponsible action by enacting a law that blocks information from those who need it most. The “Green Light” Law has a number of flaws and must be repealed immediately.
ALBANY – State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, today joined other members of the Senate Republican Conference in bringing an amendment to the floor to repeal of the so-called “Green Light” Law, his office announced a few minutes ago.
With all members of the Democratic majority voting against repeal, the measure failed.
“I voted against the ‘Green Light Law’ last year because the thought of giving a driver’s license, a secure identification document, to someone who is intentionally breaking the law was inconceivable,” Seward said in a statement after the vote.
MIDDLEFIELD – It was a day for reporting nightmares.
Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner reported his officers apprehended a possible shoplifter, but were unable to hold the suspect under New York State’s criminal justice reforms. “Even before we are done” with the paperwork, the store owners called again. “The shoplifter was back in their business,” the chief said.
All police agencies need informers to crack drug cases, said Schoharie County Sheriff Roy Brown. Now, under new discovery provisions, “your informants will be disclosed before suspects can come to trial.” Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie, said an informer on the MS-13 Puerto Rican gang was identified through disclosures required under the state reforms, and was killed.
MIDDLEFIELD – Otsego County Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, is organizing at “Repeal Bail Reform” Rally at 10:30 a.m. this Thursday, Feb. 6, at the Otsego County Correctional Facility, next to the county’s Meadows Office Building in the Town of Middlefield.
In addition to state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, attendees include three other assemblyman, including Chris Tague and Brian Miller, who represent parts of Otsego County; four county sheriffs, including Richard J. Devlin Jr.; two district attorneys, including Otsego’s John Muehl, and county Rep. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, who is running for state Senate to succeed the retiring Seward.
SCHENEVUS – Partner in his father’s market, executive with a multinational food corporation, entrepreneur in his own market-research firm, town supervisor, county representative and, now, candidate for state Senate from the Otsego-County-centric 51st District.
Grounded in Main Street and Wall Street, Peter Oberacker confirmed Tuesday, Jan. 28, that he will seek to carry forward the 34-year legacy of the retiring state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford.
“It’s been reassuring to have a state senator who knows us by name,” said the 53-year-old Republican from Schenevus, That’s also “the hardest part: trying to emulate Jim Seward, how he’s been serving the district for 30-40 years in a calming, non-controversial way.
The way forward opened up Tuesday evening as Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie, whose district includes four Otsego County towns and was seen as the leading Republican contender to succeed Seward, took himself out of the running. He cited loyalty to his 102nd District, where he was elected less than two years ago.
In the next two weeks, Oberacker said, county Republican Chairman Vince Casale will be introducing him to the county chairmen in the other eight counties in the 51st District, asking for their support.
Initial soundings he’s taken are encouraging, Casale said. “It’s important for us to keep representation in Otsego County” – it’s also the geographic center of the 51st – “as we’ve enjoyed for the past 34 years,” he added.
Asked about Oberacker’s intentions, Seward said “I’ve known the Oberacker family for decades. He has the right skill set, demeanor and experience to make a great candidate.” If Oberacker wins the support of the county GOP chairmen, “he certainly will have my full support. I would consider him a very worthy successor.”
Before Seward announced he will be retiring on Dec. 31, when his current term ends, Jim Barber, a Schoharie farmer and son of J. Roger Barber, state Ag & Markets commissioner in the Carey Administration, announced he was seeking the Democratic nomination. It’s unknown if other Democrats will now emerge.
Locally, two possible Democratic contenders, former Oneonta Mayor John Nader, now SUNY Farmingdale president, and Dan Crowell, the former county treasurer who is leaving the Army Reserves after returning this month from Somalia, have both said they are not interested in a Senate campaign.
Oberacker and his two sisters were born on Long Island. As his father, Peter Sr., used to tell it, the family’s VW bus “ran out of gas and I bought a house.” Actually, the son says, his mother’s parents lived in the area.
The son was 5 at the time and grew up locally, graduating from Schenevus’ Andrew Draper High School, then studying food sales and distribution at SUNY Delhi.
He joined his father in operating Spicy Pete’s Meats, a retail and wholesaler. When his father passed away in 1993, the son joined General Spice, then became an executive chef at Conagra, developing Wendy’s spicy chicken breast, among other products.
By the turn of the century, he was working for German-based Budenheim USA, a food-additive company. When Budenheim laid off U.S. executives, he and a colleague, Ron Wheeler, founded their own company, FormTech Solutions.
The R&D firm located in College Station, applying research developed by Texas A&M scientists to industry. In 2018, Oberacker, the CEO, and Wheeler, the COO/president, moved the company to the Town of Maryland, east of Schenevus.
Oberacker and his wife Carol have two grown children, Holli and Derek.
During this period, Oberacker had been calling on accounts nationwide and commuting back and forth between College Station and the family’s home on Smokey Avenue. He was elected Maryland town supervisor and, then, in 2015, was elected to the county Board of Representatives, succeeding Worcester’s Don Lindberg.
He quickly began to accumulate responsibilities, for the past two years as chairman of the Public Works Committee, which is currently studying a possible combined highway garage at the Northern Catskill BOCES in Milford, among other initiatives.
On learning of Seward’s decision to retire, Oberacker said he was concerned that initiatives of particular interest to him – a prospective 300-job distribution center at Schenevus’ I-88 exit, and a finding a safe berth for students in the financially troubled Schenevus Central School District – would fall by the wayside.
The first step of any prospective candidate, he said, is “you go to your wife, and you basically ask permission.” Then “I called my business partner. He looked at me as if I’d lost my head.” However, “they both supported me,” and the effort was launched.
He has been Otsego County’s state senator since 1986. Many of us – most of us, perhaps – have never known another one.
He is everyone’s friend. If you’ve ever observed him walk down the street. Or cross a crowded restaurant on his way to a table. Or appear at a parade or fair or other public gathering. The congenial legislator can’t make it more than a few steps without someone stopping him for a greeting, a friendly word or a handshake.
This newspaper named him “Citizen of the Year” in 2013. On learning that cancer had returned last year, we realized the 2000 and 10s qualified as “The Seward Decade.” Now we must sadly acknowledge the end of “The Seward Era.”
He’s been part of the Otsego County picture, and has been for his 69 years, raised in Milford, attending Valleyview Elementary, Oneonta High School, then Hartwick College.
Commuting, he immediately began work as a legislative aide in Albany, and soon was the youngest Republican county chairman in our history. Politics is the sea he’s swum in, going back to such early ventures as organizing a countywide Methodist youth group in his teens.
Elected in 1986 at age 35, he was the youngest state senator in county history, and the first to hail from Otsego County since 1952, when Walter Stokes, laird of Cooperstown’s Woodside Hall, retired.
His fingerprints are on every major Otsego County project in the past 34 years. Think of him next time you see a game at SUNY Oneonta’s Dewar Arena, or attend a concert or gala at Foothills, or celebrate Hall of Fame Weekend events this summer at the renovated Doubleday Field.
The two Seward Summits – 2012 and 2013 – revolutionized economic development here. We’re now a contender.
Not surprising, though, it was the more personal interventions – constituent service: easing people’s interactions with a mostly faceless state government – that are dearest to his heart, he said in an interview Monday, Jan. 20, after he announced he will leave office at the end of the year.
Facing a second bout of cancer treatments, he’s handling his state Senate duties, but “giving 100 percent” to a reelection campaign leading up to Nov. 3 is just not prudent right now Looking back, he most treasures when someone would come up to him and say, “You saved my life.” As longtime chairman of the state Senate Insurance Committee, a query from the senator’s office was often sufficient for a medical insurance company to revisit the rejection of coverage and discover it was warranted after all.
Never been sick? He’s nonetheless enriched everybody’s life in the county of his birth. Thank you, senator.
But let’s say hasta luego, not farewell. A year or two of treatment, rest and recuperation, may bring you back to full strength.
Who knows what the future holds? After all, Joe Biden is 79.
ONEONTA – State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, announced a few moments ago he will not seek reelection this year to the seat he has held since 1986.
“I have decided not to seek reelection in 2020 and will retire from the Senate when my current term, my 17th, expires at the end of the year,” Seward said in a statement released at 11:54 a.m . “While I have responded well to cancer treatments, my physicians have advised me that treatments will continue for the foreseeable future, limiting my ability to maintain the rigorous schedule needed to campaign for re-election. This is the right decision for my health, my family, and the people of the 51st Senate District.
“I want to stress that this decision is in no way related to majority or minority standing in the Senate. I have effectively served under both scenarios and have always fought for the best interests of my constituents no matter the party in power – which is exactly what I will continue to do for the remainder of my term.