15-term senator faces challenge in re-election bid
State Sen. James Seward, a 15-term incumbent, is being challenged in his re-election bid by Jermaine Bagnall-Graham.
The winner of the 51st Senate District race will serve a two-year term starting Jan. 1, 2017.
Bagnall-Graham, 44, of 6 East St. South, Sherburne, will be on the Democratic and Women’s Equality Party lines on the Nov. 8 ballot. Seward, 65, of 80 North St., Milford, will be on the Republican, Conservative, Independence and Reform Party lines.
The 51st State Senate District includes all of Otsego, Schoharie and Cortland counties, and parts of Ulster, Delaware, Chenango, Herkimer, Cayuga and Tompkins counties. The Ulster County towns in the district are Rochester, Olive, Shandaken and Hardenburgh.
Bagnall-Graham is a first-time candidate for elected office who works as a clinical systems analyst for Bassett Health Care.
He has lived in the district for 12 years, and he and his wife, Annette, have two young children.
Bagnall-Graham graduated from Binghamton High School in 1990, earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from SUNY Oneonta in 2006 and received a master’s degree in public administration from SUNY Binghamton in 2010. He was in the U.S. Army from 1994 to 1999 and was discharged as an E4 specialist.
Bagnall-Graham says state lawmakers to have done a poor job of providing support to school districts and dealing with problems related to standardized testing.
“Looking at the way we’re evaluating teachers, tying it to the student testing, that has to be addressed,” he said.
“We have this complicated system that the state uses to fund schools,” he said. “I would like to simplify it. Focus on schools that are need-based, based on the economic situations of the families of the students. If you have a ... wealthy school on Long Island versus a poor school in Sherburne or Oneonta, the cost of living is lower here but yet we also have people on social services here, unemployed here, so the kids who are going to school here are coming from poorer families.”
Bagnall-Graham also said state lawmakers have failed to recognize the environmental impacts on communities of such proposals as the Constitution Pipeline and longstanding problems like the bluegreen algae in Owasco Lake.
Bagnall-Graham said the highest priority should be combating corruption among state lawmakers.
“I think if people are serious about ending corruption, especially the three-men-in-a-room [state budget] scenario, if you added more transparency into that process by including an outside person such as the comptroller, I think it would be huge,” he said. He also suggested adding the Senate and Assembly minority leaders to the process.
Bagnall-Graham also said it’s important to address the opioid addiction problem in the state.
“I think a lot of the focus should be on hiring more experts in the drug rehab areas and drug counseling areas,” he said. “We have to open up more long-term care facilities. It’s got to go beyond education. It’s got to be boots-to-ground rehab.”
Seward is a lifelong area resident, and he and his wife, Cynthia, have two adult children.
Seward graduated from Oneonta High School in 1969 and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Hartwick College in 1973.
He first was elected to the state Senate in 1986.
Seward is a member of the Pathfinder Village Residential Community for Downs Syndrome, the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, the Milford Historical Association and the Milford United Methodist Church board.
Seward considers funding for school districts and improving standardized testing to be a priority for the next Legislature.
“I’m pleased that we have the current commissioner of education and the Board of Regents revamping Common Core and teacher evaluations,” he said. “Both of those issues have been very difficult for our school dis-
tricts and students and parents. I am pleased with the direction that we’re going with revamping Common Core, with less reliance on the high-stakes testing of students and coming in with a fairer way of evaluating teacher performance.”
Seward also would like to see a shift in how economic development money is distributed in the state.
“We have these regional councils that have developed these plans ... and that drives certain economic development funding to certain projects,” he said. “I say, going forward, we need to put more emphasis
on broad-based economic development incentives — in tax relief, for example . ... I would like to see a program for small businesses to help them with their property taxes.”
Seward also said a constitutional amendment should be placed on the 2017 ballot to eliminate pensions for state lawmakers convicted of crimes involving corruption.
“Also, term limits for legislative leaders in the Legislature and the committee chairmen,” he said. “We have that in our Senate rules, [where] the majority leader of the Senate can only serve for eight years and also committee chairmen for eight years. I’d like to see that placed in the law so that would apply to both houses of the Legislature.”
Jermaine Bagnall-Graham, left, and state Sen. James Seward