Republican Assembly candidate John L. Byrne III says local schools do an excellent job of educating young people, but the lagging north country economy too often forces graduates to leave the area to find work.
Mr. Byrne, 46, Cape Vincent, announced Tuesday that he will challenge Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, for the 116th Assembly District seat.
One of the biggest issues that I started to see a couple of years ago is that the economy is not quite what it should be, Mr. Byrne said, adding that the economy is at the forefront of the minds of residents he has met with in towns in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties along the St. Lawrence River, commonly called the river district.
Mr. Byrne owns Ontario Shores campground in Cape Vincent and JLB Plastics, a precision injection molding manufacturer in Cooperstown that he began after attending Clarkson University, Potsdam, and Hartwick College, Oneonta. He said his experience as a small-business owner would serve him well in the Assembly.
I believe thats something that could be an asset to the district. Small business is what keeps America going, in general, he said.
A Cape Vincent town councilman and vice chairman of the towns local development corporation, Mr. Byrne cites the move of Kingston, Ontario, aluminum boat manufacturer MetalCraft Marine to the town as an example of the type of economic activity needed in the area.
It would be a great thing if we could get more businesses brought here to the north country whether its from Canada or somewhere else in the United States to bring jobs back, he said.
Stating that some of the greatest schools in the nation are right here in New York state, Mr. Byrne said he is opposed to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which reduces state aid to school districts. He said a disproportionate amount of school aid is targeted for downstate districts.
I think what we need to do is leverage that so the aid we need in upstate gets to us, he said. I will make sure that more of that aid comes upstate where we need it.
He said he also disagrees with the merging of school districts that result in schools closing. He said while that may be a solution in more urban areas downstate, it does not make sense in the north country where districts can encompass large geographical swaths. He cited, as an example, Cape Vincent Elementary School, where his 6-year-old daughter attends, which was considered for closure. That would have required that children in Cape Vincent travel to Clayton for school.
I dont think its healthy for a kid to be sitting on a bus for two or three hours a day, Mr. Byrne said.
Mr. Byrne said he supports raising educational standards, but thinks the state mishandled the implementation of federal Common Core standards.
We need to utilize our teachers to actually do the teaching and not have the legislators coming up with the programs that the teachers should be teaching, he said.
Mr. Byrne, a former Army reservist, is a gun owner and hunter who opposes the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, viewing it as an imposition on peoples Constitutional rights.
I think its a disservice to the people of New York state to take away those rights, he said. There are a lot of responsible gun owners and I dont think its the guns that kill the people, its the person.
He said, as a town councilman, he knows the challenges of meeting the states 2 percent property tax rate cap, particularly in a year such as this one when highway budgets are strained by inclement weather that requires overtime and the use of more supplies such as salt and sand.
The (tax cap) forces you to sharpen the sword as you look at what youre going to cut and what youre not going to cut, he said. Its going to be an interesting budget in the coming year because of the weather. If you put the property tax freeze on this, thats only going to exacerbate what were doing now.
Mr. Byrne was a member of Wind Power Ethics Group, an organization widely perceived as being opposed to the development of large-scale wind turbine projects, but Mr. Byrne said he does not oppose wind projects, provided proper setbacks are established and adhered to for the turbines. He also said elected officials with contracts for turbines on their property should not be allowed to participate in votes pertaining to proposed projects.
Mr. Byrne first came to the north country as a reservist at Fort Drum, which he calls a gem and an asset.
Fort Drum was really my first experience of the north country and Ive found its a beautiful area, he said.
He said when he first met his wife, Tanya, he brought her to the Cape Vincent area for a vacation and she agreed fully that this was one of the most beautiful places in the world.
We were all in, he said. Weve enjoyed every moment of it since.
Republican John S. Humphrey, Brownville, and Conservative Russell A. Finley, Lisbon, previously have announced that they will also be seeking the 116th Assembly District seat.