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.
By State Sen. JAMES SEWARD • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
The 2020 New York State legislative session got its official start a few days ago with the governor’s State of the State address. While the governor mentioned a few ideas I can back, for the most part, he glossed over or completely ignored some of the toughest challenges facing our state.
New York State is losing population at an alarming rate. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, New York lost more people than any other state in 2019, the second straight year we have held that dubious distinction. I have pointed to this concern in the past, and while the governor has blamed the weather for our outmigration, that’s not the real problem. Taxes are too high, the cost of living continues to go up, and unworkable government regulations are discouraging business growth.
In 2019, the Democrats in charge in Albany raised taxes and fees by more than $4.6 billion. They also eliminated the popular property tax relief checks for seniors and homeowners. This year won’t be any better. We are already facing a $6 billion deficit that can be traced to rising Medicaid costs and overspending in last year’s state budget. Unfortunately, the governor’s message did not offer any remedies to these fiscal concerns.
The governor was also silent on the so-called bail reforms that officially became law on January 1. Under the changes, there are dozens of serious crimes that no longer require bail, allowing alleged perpetrators to return to our communities with no consequences.
Since the law took hold, dozens of suspects have been released back on the streets, leaving us more vulnerable than ever. These are not petty criminals, but individuals charged with serious offenses – like manslaughter, stalking, sex trafficking, child assault, and domestic violence crimes.
Many are repeat offenders who pose a clear and present danger to the public, but thanks to the Democrats’ new law, a judge may no longer even consider “dangerousness” as a criteria in determining whether an individual should be held or set free.
Many of these individuals quickly committed new crimes, further endangering the public and exhausting police resources. There have been a host of real life examples, including several right here in the 51st Senate District.
I have also read a number of first-hand accounts from individuals crediting their time in jail for helping them turn their lives around. Drug addicts, who received help to overcome substance abuse, are among those opposing the bail law reforms. Albany County District Attorney David Soares made this exact point while testifying about this law last year:
“I also need to point out the possible impact on drug courts. The way drug courts work right now is that defendants are held on bail and given the option of drug court or jail. If everyone gets presumptive release on drug cases, nobody will go to drug court. We need to carefully examine how we treat drug crimes under any new bail proposal. I know I don’t have to tell you how bad the opioid crisis is in our state. Drug courts around have been very successful in helping individuals get the services they need and stay clean.”
I voted against the reforms last year and co-sponsor several bills to repeal the changes entirely or amend the measures to, at the very least, allow judicial discretion in domestic violence cases or where public safety is in jeopardy. To date, Senate Democrats have shown no willingness to correct the mistakes in their ill-conceived bail reforms. In fact, on the first working day of the legislative session an amendment brought by Senate Republicans to repeal the bail reform laws was voted down with every Democrat voting against the measure.
Moving forward, I will continue the fight to repeal this unsafe law. You can join me by signing my on-line petition at www.seward.nysenate.gov. By signing, you will be sending a strong message to the Senate Majority that our communities MUST be protected.
MIDDLEBURGH – A fifth-generation farmer and son of a former state Ag & Markets commissioner announced here Saturday he’s seeking the Democratic nomination to run for state Senate in the 10-county 51st District, which includes Otsego County.
In he wins the nomination, Jim Barber would challenge state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, next fall.
Editor’s Note: This editorial is reprinted from this week’s editions of Hometown Oneonta & The Freeman’s Journal, on newsstands now.
The news that state Sen. Jim Seward’s cancer is back – his office issued a press release Wednesday, Nov. 6 – brings two immediate reactions.
One, fingers crossed. Advances in cancer-fighting research can mean five years, 10 years – and more – of active living. Everyone’s got a story of a happy outcome.
Two, reflections immediately come to mind on the ongoing Seward Era of Otsego County politics. It’s been a charmed one, and to reflect on it underscores how his recovery will be good news for all of us.
Just think about this decade, the State Sen. Jim Seward Decade, if you will.
“My physicians have recommended a series of treatments over the next several weeks that will limit my availability and curtail my normal, active district schedule,” he said in a statement. “While I will be taking some time to concentrate on getting better, my offices will remain open and my capable staff will continue to assist constituents with their state-related needs.”
State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, addresses a packed house at Oneonta’s Quality Inn last evening as the Jail Ministry of Otsego County marked its 60th anniversary in ministering to inmates at the county Correctional Facility. At the gathering, the Jail Ministry honored, inset photo, Seward, LEAF Executive Director Julie Dostal and Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner. (Photos courtesy Otsego Chamber of Commerce)
COOPERSTOWN – With board Vice Chairman Gary Koutnik abstaining, and another Democrat voting nay, the county Board of Representatives today asked the state Parole Board “to deny the release, conditional or otherwise,” of David Dart, convicted of slaying 18-year-old Jill Gibbons with a “Rambo-style knife” in the Oneonta Municipal Parking Garage in 1989.
The resolution, passed 12-1-1, also put the county board on record supporting a bill, S4354, introduced several times by state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, to increase the time between parole hearing for “violent crimes” from two to five years.