Oberacker Excited About Possibility of Representing Sullivan in State Senate's 51st District
State Senator Peter Oberacker is not well-known to most Sullivan County residents.
But as of later today, that will likely start to change as State Supreme Court Justice Paul McCallister (Steuben County) is expected to put his final stamp of approval on redrawn maps created by Special Master Jonathan Cervas for State Senate districts, including the new 51st District that Sullivan will likely be part of starting in 2023.
In an interview with The SullivanTimes on Tuesday afternoon, the 59-year-old Republican -who is serving his first term in Albany - said he's excited about the possibility of representing Sullivan.
Senator Peter Oberacker from meeting in October of Joint Task Force on Opioids, Addiction and Overdose
"I think it (Sullivan) fits in so good logistically with what I'm used to in the 51st," Oberacker said. When I was in sales, I traveled extensively in upstate New York and know the area. More importantly, I know (State Senator) Mike Martucci. We actually spoke this morning. He said, 'You're gonna love it. Great people. '"
He said he did not expect any other Republicans to get into the race for the seat in November.
On the Democratic side, however, he is now being challenged by Democrat Eric Ball of Walton, NY, who announced late Tuesday that he's running in the 51st.
Ball, who was in Sullivan last month, was originally planning to mount a challenge to Martucci (in the Democrat's proposed 44th District that was thrown out by the court) before the new Senate maps for the 51st District were made public.
Aside from Sullivan, the new 51st district, if given final approval today, will include all of Chenango, Schoharie, Greene and Delaware Counties and small portions of Broome, Ulster and his hometown of Otsego County, where Oberacker is a former county legislator. The district will no longer include any towns located in Tompkins County.
The months-long drama regarding New York's State's politically-charged redistricting mess left state legislators of both major parties stranded while awaiting court decisions.
Oberacker said that when the court ruled that the Democrat's lines were unconstitutional, he said he was at first "shocked" but it restored his faith in the system.
On April 27, when the court tossed out the maps, he issued a statement that said:
“Albany insiders, working to consolidate power and block the will of the people, were handed a sound reprimand by New York’s highest court. When your work is deemed unconstitutional’ it is time to look in the mirror and adjust your definition of public service. “It is an honor to serve the people of the 51st Senate District and I look forward to continuing to stand up for our shared values. I eagerly await fair and independent legislative maps – that is what the public demands and deserves.”
Oberacker, who owns FormTech Solutions, grew up in the food industry. His father was a German sausage maker and his family had a meat market in Oneonta.
"By trade, I'm a sausage maker and meat cutter," he said.
One of the key issues that the senator identified as a priority is to make sure all New Yorkers have "real access" to broadband services and that those services provide the speeds required to function effectively n today's world. (Remarkably, he said he does not have broadband service at his home in Schenevus, a hamlet in southeast Otsego County).
Another issue, and one in which he has carried legislation, is to make emergency medical service members essential service providers in New York State so they can be funded by the state.
Oberacker is the ranking member of the Senate's Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Committee and the Internet and Technology Committee.
Asked what he would do about the opioid crisis that is wreaking havoc in Sullivan and so many other rural counties, he said:
"We need to address it and admit that we have these issues. We need to educate the public about the severity of what's going on. We need to reach out to those that have substance abuse disorder and to get them to understand that there' s hope, that there's a way out of their situation. I have a family member who has had substance abuse. I have lived it. "
He added that "we need long term facilities that would allow a longer period of time to deal with it (substance abuse) emotionally, physically and psychologically to break that addiction cycle." He cited a treatment facility in Schoharie County that he helped facilitate with State Senator Pete Harckham (chair of the Senate's Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Committee)
as a model of success.
Oberacker said that his work with Harckham and on the Joint Senate Task Force on Opioids, Addiction & Overdose Prevention is an example of an issue where Republicans and Democrats can work together.
"If there ever was a bipartisan committee on a bipartisan issue, substance abuse does not discriminate," he said.
Oberacker acknowledged, too, that the two major parties are far apart and dialogue can often heated.
But he said he takes his experience as an entrepreneur to "respect everyone" and always try to bring out the positive and don't focus on the negative."
Although he said he hasn't worked directly with Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, he was the Senate sponsor and Gunther a co-sponsor of a bill last year that was signed by then-Governor Cuomo that designated baseball the official sport of New York State. The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is in his district.
On April 9, Oberacker railed against Governor Hochul's 2022-23 budget. He said that he voted against nine of the ten separate bills.
His full statement said:
"The ultimate in Albany double-dealing has just finished playing out at the Capitol. A budget that spends at a record rate, checks in more than a week late, and was cobbled together in total secrecy is now complete. Last minute additions, headlined by sham bail reform changes that fail to improve public safety and a multi-million-dollar football stadium handout, are prime examples of misplaced priorities. Education aid for our schools, an end to the fiber optic tax to boost rural broadband growth, and the partial gas tax suspension – about half of what I proposed – are all positives. However, the negatives in this plan, coupled with the dysfunctional process, prove that real change is needed and it is time to end the status quo.
New York is losing population at a record rate and this budget, which blows through our reserves and spends at an unsustainable rate, will only drive more people out because no one wants to be here when the bill comes due."
Despite that statement that "no one wants to be here," Oberacker last week urged graduates of Herkimer Community College to stay in New York State as part of his commencement address.