MASSENA - Three candidates for Assembly, an assemblywoman, two state senators, a candidate for governor, a congressman, a candidate for Congress, the St. Lawrence County sheriff and both candidates for mayor in the village of Massena were all among the participants of Monday’s Solidarity Day Parade or the celebration that followed.
While the parade routinely brings out a plethora of elected officials, in this, an election year, the parade included a long roster of Democrats, Republicans and independent candidates.
Many of those with political ties marched alongside members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2032. Joining the IBEW were Republican State Senators Joseph A. Griffo and Patricia A. Ritchie, Republican Sheriff Kevin Wells, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino and Democratic Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell.
Ms. Russell said the fact that she was marching with a group that included several Republicans, including the party’s candidate for governor, was nothing more than a coincidence. She kept her distance from the GOP gubernatorial candidate marching with union members rather than at the front of the group with the local’s leadership and the other elected elected officials as well as Mr. Astorino.
“I was invited several months ago to march with 2032, and I committed to them right away,” she said. “I am here supporting the men and women who work for the Power Authority here in the north country.”
Ms. Russell said one of the main reasons she marched alongside IBEW members was because they have continued to work for three years without a contract.
“My understanding is some of the issues holding up the contract are undermining the strength in their workforce and would actually depress compensation. When the dam was constructed there was a licensing agreement, but there was also an agreement that they would provide good paying jobs that would be the cornerstone of the local economy,” she said.
Ms. Russell said she has continually lobbied the Power Authority to live up to its end of the bargain on both fronts.
“Their failure to do so it why I am here marching with these workers today,” she said. “I’m actually happy to point out that the fact is I am here for this community and their families, while others are here simply for personal and political gain.
“I have always supported the underlying issues connected to labor. I have stood with labor all over the north country at the psych center, the prisons and numerous picket lines. I have a proven record of supporting labor, and I don’t believe that everyone marching here today supports everything that labor stands for and what I have a record of fighting for,” she said.
Mr. Griffo said Labor Day in Massena is something he looks forward to each year.
“Each year I’m honored to be here and celebrate labor,” he said. “When you look at the success that businesses enjoy, much of that is because of the work force.”
The quality of the work force in the region is something that Mr. Griffo said makes St. Lawrence County unique when compared to other parts of the nation or world.
Using Alcoa as an example, Mr. Griffo said the quality of workers here isn’t likely to be matched anywhere else.
“They’re not going to be able to replicate the workforce elsewhere,” he said.
When asked about marching with Mr. Astorino, Mr. Griffo said he honestly hasn’t put much though yet into the governor’s race, noting his main focus has been working to maintain the Republican majority in the Senate.
“We need to maintain the Republican majority in the Senate,” he said. “We can all remember what happened when we lost that balance.”
Mr. Griffo said prior to the GOP regaining control of the state Senate, New York had a Democratic governor, a Democratic Assembly and a Democratic Senate.
“With the New York City Democrats controlling the state, we ended up with $14 billion in new taxes,” he said.
Both Congressman William L. Owens as well as the man hoping to succeed him marched with members of Laborers Local 322.
Aaron Woolf said he was proud to walk with the men and women from Laborers Local 322. “It’s incredible to stand in solidarity with our labor unions.
“I’ve been a member of three separate unions and guilds, and I know that labor has an essential role in both providing important and essential middle class jobs and for training a new generation of skilled American laborers,” Mr. Woolf said.
While Mr. Owens marched alongside Mr. Woolf, he said his support for his potential successor was a secondary reason for spending his Labor Day in Massena.
“The Laborers were the first union to support me, and I promised them that every year that I could I would march with them,” he said. “They showed loyalty to me and I’m glad to give it back to them.”
Mr. Owens said he feels like Mr. Woolf is the right person to follow him in Congress.
“I like him and I think he’s a nice guy, but more importantly he’s not just going to say he’ll cross the aisle, he’ll actually do it,” Mr. Owens said, noting he too has a record of working with the GOP.
Mr. Owens continued, “He’s good on what I consider people issues like the minimum wage and women’s issues. He’s got the right stance that I feel best benefits the people of this district.”
Although neither John Byrnes or Russell Finley marched in the parade, both men, who are challenging Ms. Russell for her seat in the Assembly, said they felt it was important to come to Massena and meet with constituents.
“I’m a veteran running for the Assembly. I’m going to work as hard as I can,” Mr. Byrne said, noting he served eight years in the military and is a supporter of the 2nd Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms.
“My opponent has been in there six years. My job is to give voters an option, to give them as much information about me so they know what I’m about when I’m in office.”
Mr. Byrne also noted he is a strong believer in restructuring the way the state allocates education funding.
“We need to keep our school aid up here and stop sending it downstate,” he said, adding his daughter’s own school, Cape Vincent Elementary, was almost closed as a result of the ongoing education funding crisis.
“The board was looking at closing it and forcing a merger with the Clayton school,” he said.
Mr. Byrne said he was aware the Solidarity Day parade in Massena draws a large crowd. “It’s a big parade with a lot of people. It is my job to get out and let people know where I stand and discuss issues with them,” he said.
Among the issues he’s heard the most about is the future of Massena Memorial Hospital.
“In Massena, the hospital is a big issue,” he said. “I think we have to do whatever it’s going to take to keep the hospital open for the community. I don’t think a short-term fix is the answer, and I think Supervisor (Joseph D.) Gray is doing a good job of working towards a long-term solution.”
Russell Finley, also a candidate for the state Assembly seat, said he chose not to participate in the parade because he not yet been elected to office and is no longer a union member.
“I believe the parade is reserved for elected officials,” he said, adding he still felt it was important to come to Massena and help spread his message.
Candidates for office have to be invited by a union to march in the parade. Candidates without union support often walk along the parade route or meet with voters at the post-parade celebration in Springs Park.
“These are the people of the north country. This is what the north country is all about,” he said. “I look at all these people and New York state has to wake up. We need to improve New York’s reputation so that industry comes here or comes back.”
Mr. Finley said he loves New York, but he understands why so many people have left over the years.
“The biggest thing is we have to make New York a state that’s good for business. We want to start here and live here,” he said.