Democratic challengers in Southern Tier use fracking to gain support

CREDO.fracking via flickr
November 2, 2012

In Tuesday's election, one of the top issues in the Southern Tier will be hydrofracking. And Democratic challengers in Broome County are hoping the election sends a signal that fracking isn't welcome. 

On a sunny Saturday in October, members of New York Residents Against Drilling threw a candidate meet-and-greet party. Attendees sat on the back porch of a house in Vestal, snacking on vegan pumpkin bread.

The candidates doing the meeting and greeting were Tarik Abdelazim, the Democratic challenger for Broome County executive, and Paul Logalbo, who¿s challenging Steve Milkovich for a spot on theVestal Town Board.

Both are running as strong opponents of hydrofracking. Donald Glauber is one of the event’s organizers.

“My main hope is that we elect candidates and Governor Cuomo realizes that if he allows fracking, it will be the worst political decision and the worst moral decision that he ever makes in his life.”

Glauber is an active anti-fracking campaigner. But he hasn't gotten this involved in an election since the 60¿s, trying to defeat Nixon.

“I worked for Eugene McCarthy, going door to door, but I was 13.”

Abdelazim’s opponent in the county executive race is the Republican incumbent, Debbie Preston. Preston is a strong supporter of fracking, citing the jobs and economic boom that would come with drilling.

Broome County’s poverty rate is higher than the state average. According to Preston’s campaign manager, Bijoy Datta, fracking takes a back seat to other issues in this campaign.

“The two things that just keep coming up over and over are we need jobs, we need to promote economic development, and we need to keep taxes low. So that’s why we have kept our focus there.”

And there isn¿t much that a New York county executive can do about fracking. Town boards can ban it, but county executives cannot. That’s why Datta calls Abdelazim’s focus on fracking an attempt to drive a wedge in the electorate.

“So ultimately I think for him to use that as an issue, I think that’s kind of disingenuous and I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense.”

But that hasn’t stopped it from coming up. During last month’s debate between Abdelazim and Preston, almost 20% of the hour-long debate was focused on fracking. Abdelazim says he is outspoken on the topic because it’s such a hotly contested issue.

“And I know that many people in the state are actually looking at Broome County and in fact this race as a referendum on fracking.”

“Ok, so, where are we right now?”

“We are right now at well site 1-1 in the Town of Vestal. This well, in the 1970s and 80s was contaminated with VOCs, that¿s Volatile Organic Chemicals.”

Paul Logalbo is challenging Steve Milkovich for a seat on the Vestal Town Board. Logalbo says his family was exposed to contaminated water from this well before it was shut down. He believes  the same thing could happen again if fracking comes to Vestal.

“Is this why you¿re getting into the city council race?”

“This is why I’m running for Vestal councilman, along with the financial problems we’re having in Vestal.”

Milkovich declined to be interviewed for this story. He has said that he is neutral on whether or not hydrofracking should be permitted.

Ultimately, that decision rests with Governor Cuomo. But the races in Broome County should send a signal to the governor about the political cost he’ll pay no matter what decision he makes.