Michelle Ostrelich, the Democratic challenger to Republican James Tedisco ’72. Photo by
By James Boggs
On November 6, 2018, New Yorkers from all 63 electoral districts will have the opportunity to select their districts’ next representatives to the New York State (NYS) Senate. Democrats are hoping to see the “blue wave” propel the party to victory across the state and allow them to take control of the currently Republican-run Senate.
Among the many Democratic candidates hoping to ride the wave is Niskayuna lawyer and community leader Michelle Ostrelich, who is challenging incumbent Republican James Tedisco ’72 for NYS Senate District 49.
The 49th district encompasses Schenectady, Niskayuna and Ballston Spa as well as a large swath of land stretching north from Johnstown. With the primaries only months away, Ostrelich has been on the campaign trail. While in Schenectady, she stopped by the Concordiensis office for an exclusive interview.
When asked why she is running for NYS Senate, she focused first on her mother, who she says, “inspired me and left me a legacy of wanting to better lives of women and encourage women to pursue their goals.” Until recently, Ostrelich had been a lifelong Republican, something she picked up from her parents as she was growing up.
The turning point for Ostelich was President Trump’s victory in the 2016 election. It was not, she explained, that her views had changed but that the Republican Party had and she found it “harder to justify.” In her opinion, radical voices in both parties have become overrepresented in government and “the Republican agenda right now doesn’t look towards folks who are truly struggling with things like healthcare, jobs and our schools.”
She was compelled to run for office came when she and a friend led a busload of women to the Women’s March in New York City. When she got back she was “aching to do more… After an event like that, it was important to take on more of an activist role locally.”
Ostrelich believes that she can take advantage of her background as a community leader in order to make a difference in Albany, stating that “there’s been many times where I’ve been faced with an issue within the organization of growth or change and I’m always that person who brings different viewpoints together.”
Throughout the interview Ostrelich remained focused on issues relating to local development and growth, such as expanding broadband and cell services, bringing more healthcare services to the area and improving local schools. When asked about the first thing she would do as Senator, she replied, “A priority of mine is to make sure that our local schools are fully funded with the Foundation Aid that’s owed to them.” Another issue she said she would try to tackle is universal healthcare.
Recalling her visit to the New York State Democratic Rural Conference in April this year, Ostrelich highlighted a couple of the common concerns she heard there that she believes resonates across the state like the need for better schools and a larger middle class. She also talked about various needs she feels are unique to rural counties, such as Hamilton County’s need for closer healthcare resources as well as broadband and cell service. In Ostrelich’s view, these issues of jobs, healthcare and education are bipartisan.
Her biggest difference from the Republican Party and Tedisco is in her progressive social views. She stated that she would have voted in favor of the Child Victims Act, which Tedisco voted against and said she disagreed with Tedisco’s past vote against same-sex marriage. She also believes that a State Senator could do more for economic development and eduation. “That, I think, is being lost without someone who is truly passionate about those issues,” Ostrelich said.
Besides her politics, she was queried her about her advice for college students. She stated that while there is a lot of opportunity, students will struggle with the challenge of college debt. She also advised talking to professors and making connections with people with similar interests. Finally, she talked about the local region, saying, “I would love Union College students to know the opportunities that are available here. There’s so much growth in Malta, at SUNY Polytechnic, just the Capital Region is really having a great time attracting talent and I would like you to know this is a great place to raise a family.”
Concordiensis reached out to Tedisco after this interview and he sent back the following statements.
“Since becoming a state Senator, I am proud to have been able to author and pass 27 bills to help remove obstacles so people can be everything they can be with their God-given talents. During that time, I’ve worked hard to keep more taxpayer dollars in people’s pockets and block over $1 billion in new taxes from being passed into law…
I appreciate anyone who wants to get in the arena of public service, but for anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a candidate for state legislature their agenda can’t revolve around more taxing and spending for the highest taxed state in the nation. Due to the governmental malpractice of over-taxing, overspending, over-regulating and over-mandating of my opponent’s Democratic colleagues… If there is only voice our state government, we will no longer be the Empire State but we will become the ‘Empty State.’”
When asked about his time at Union, Tedisco said: “One of the most important life lessons I learned while I was at Union College was that if you are part of a team and know your role and don’t care who gets the credit, the team and you as an individual can achieve incredible success… And that’s a lesson I try to convey to my colleagues—on both sides of the aisle—in the legislature.”