A race for the 110th Assembly district pits incumbent Assemblyman Phil Steck, a Democrat, against Republican challenger Alexandra Velella.
The newly drawn 110th District encompasses all of Colonie and a portion of Guilderland in Albany County and all of Niskayuna and a portion the City of Schenectady in Schenectady County.
After a hard fought Democratic Party primary in 2012 to replace the retiring Assemblyman Bob Reilly, Steck won his first general election to the Assembly seat by beating Republican Jennifer Whalen by a 15-point margin. His second in 2014 was closer, but he still beat Tom Jasiewicz by an 8-point margin. He won his next three elections by margins of 20 points-plus.
Velella is making her second run for public office, having narrowly lost a bid for the Colonie Town Board last year. On Election Day she was in second place for three open seats on the board but after absentee ballots were counted she came in fourth by 87 votes with more than 10,500 cast.
Velella, the daughter of the late Guy Velella, who represented the Bronx in the Assembly from 1973 to 1982 and in the Senate from 1986 to 2004. She has the support of the Republican and Conservative parties in Albany and Schenectady counties.
Steck is a solid member of the majority where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a two-to-one margin. He has the Democratic and Working Families Party support.
Both Steck and Velella are attorneys.
Steck graduated from Harvard in 1981 and then the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1984. From 1987 to 1989, he served as an assistant district attorney in New York and Rensselaer counties before joining a private law firm. He is currently chair of the Assembly Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee and a member of the Health, Insurance, Judiciary, Labor and Oversight/Investigations committees.
The 34-year-old Velella grew up in Albany and moved downstate to attend Manhattan College and Brooklyn Law School. She was working in a New York City law firm, but returned to the Capital District in March, 2020, as the pandemic began ravaging New York City. She currently specializes on workers compensation cases.
The Spotlight asked the candidates the same set of questions and their answers appear below.
Q: Independent polls say crime is on the minds of the majority. What would you do to make New Yorkers fell safer?
PS: I am privileged to represent one of the safest communities in the U.S. We have maintained that status here in Colonie, even though crime has risen across the country. Nonetheless, we must be vigilant about crime. It is increasinglyimportant to stop crime before it happens and before the damage is done. That is why I funded the John Finn Institute which helps local police departments develop tools for preventing crime. It is named after an Albany Police Lieutenant (a personal friend) who was an innovator in policing but was killed in the line of duty. Inner city gun crime is increasing. Isupport making all gun crimes bailable offenses. We also need to develop new methods to stop the importation of illegal guns into New York state. We continue to invest in our police force, funding the reconstruction of the police and fire training facility and purchasing a new mobile command center.
AV: We need to begin by rolling back bail reform and imposing stricter penalties on criminals. One example is that the Assembly has never passed Laree’s Law, to require a felony murder charge for any drug dealer who sells a dose of drugs that lead to an overdose death. My opponent is the chair of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Vommittee, yet he has never moved this important bill forward and has not commented on it publicly — why? We also need to pass legislation to enhance penalties for any individual who attacks a first responder with the intention of hurting them because of their job title. This is another bill that has never cleared the Assembly and would restore respect for our hardworking law enforcement officers. We have to show criminals that we will not let them off the hook or condone their actions. My opponent and his colleagues have done the opposite these last few years and the results have become apparent as we see crime skyrocketing.
Q: Specifically, what do you think of bail reform and raise the age?
PS: I voted against the bail reform legislation and then was a leader in the effort to make more crimes bailable offenses and to make sure repeat offenders are not released. All violent crimes are now subject to bail. There are ample tools to prevent the release of repeat offenders. However, as I said, more work needs to be done. All illegal gun crimes should be subject to bail. People who have illegal guns have them in order to use them unlawfully. So I consider possession of illegal guns a crime that is violent in nature. Further, crimes of domestic violence should also be subject to bail because they tend to escalate over time. Raise the age is the law in 49 of 50 states. New York was one of the very last states to make this change.
AV: I oppose bail reform and want it repealed. Our Legislature has made efforts to increase the number of bailable offenses but those changes are nowhere near enough. Our justice system is imperfect and we need to make changes to protect the rights of low income individuals but our existing bail laws are not the answer. I believe that our elected judges need to be given more discretion to set bail and should have the opportunity to consider and weigh all relevant factors on a case by case basis. Raise the Age had noble intentions but the money has never been allocated to local governments at a high enough level to allow it to be implemented properly. The result has been that we sometimes see violent offenders released because there isn’t a proper youth placement for them. I would authorize county jails to hold these offenders until such time as a youth placement was available.
Q: What would you do as a legislator about gun control?
PS: I have supported all the common sense gun control measures that we have enacted. But our effort to stop mass shootings, in which New York has been a leader, addresses only half the problem. We have not addressed inner city gun violence. I have outlined earlier some of the approaches that need to be taken in that regard.
AV: New York already has the most rigorous gun control laws in the country. These laws are not stopping crime and only seems to restrict the rights of law abiding gun owners. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result and that’s what I see happening here. While I am open to looking at common sense gun legislation I will not vote for any bill that substantially undermines the Second Amendment.
Q: While Republicans and Democrats may differ on the first two questions, both sides seem to agree mental health issues and addiction are a driving force behind the spike in crime. What would you, as a legislator, do to address these two issues?
PS: As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, I am very active on this issue. In my two short years as chair, we have already developed certification for recovery residences so they will have qualified personnel to assist those in recovery who have suffered a relapse, rather than throwing them out on the street. We have also expanded the New York Matters program statewide. This program provides assistance, including telehealth, to first responders right at the scene of drug and alcohol crises. The state, however, needs to do more in the area of co-occurring disorders, that is people with diagnoses of concurrent mental health and drug abuse problems. I have sponsored legislation to infuse all 12 state-operated drug treatment centers with mental health services. This program is relatively inexpensive because it does not require building any new facilities. Under current law, a person who has significant mental health issues in addition to drug addiction is simply thrown of a drug treatment program into a mental health system that is ill-equipped to handle them.
AV: I would put far more money into the fight against the opioid epidemic and I would also pass Laree’s Law, which would require drug dealers who sell a lethal dose of drugs to be charged with felony murder, and other legislation to truly hold criminals accountable again. I also support funding for mental health wraparound services to assist law enforcement and making sure mentally ill people don’t possess firearms. This is an issue I believe we can come to a bipartisan middle ground on.
Q: What do you think of the job Kathy Hochul has done after being thrown into the governorship?
PS: I have found Governor Hochul to be far more personable than Governor Cuomo and to be a far better listener. Unfortunately, however, she has continued many Cuomo programs I disagree with. I voted against the Buffalo Bills stadium deal and am strongly opposed to allowing companies that get state contracts to make sizeable contributions to the governor. No governor of either party has addressed this problem. Governor Hochul should be a leader and take that step.
AV: Unfortunately, she has just been a kinder, gentler Andrew Cuomo. From her overuse of states of emergency powers and COVID restrictions to pushing over the top gun laws and pay to play donor schemes, I see her as just the other side of the same corrupt coin.
Q: The economy is also tops on the agenda, how would you, as a state Legislator, help revive the economy in New York state?
PS: Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. I introduced legislation to invest $14-16 billion per year in infrastructure. That creates good jobs at good wages. It would also fund road repair in Colonie. I strongly support the property tax cap and our effort to fund education more with state dollars than local dollars. This puts downward pressure on real property taxes. Finally, we need to incentivize companies not to raise prices when there are disruptions in the supply chain, which is increasingly far-flung all over the world. One missing part can cause scarcity and higher prices. We need to take a serious look at making sure all essential parts are available here in the U.S.
AV: First and foremost I will cut taxes. This is the one of the highest taxed states in the nation and as a result more than 1 million New Yorkers have left. Move people have moved out of New York than any other state in the nation. We have also seen record corporate flight in New York and small businesses that are barely staying afloat in the wake of the COVID lockdown and our current inflation crisis. There is a need to transform top down economic development programs to more flexible local pools that do not fund only projects favored by the governor. We need a clear, concise and direct subsidy program to attract businesses and most importantly one that political donations play no part in.
Q: Political divisiveness is also a concern for voters. How would you go about working across the aisle for the good of the voters in the 110th Assembly District?
PS: I think this starts with a commitment to democracy and not falsely claiming election fraud when you don’t get the results you want. Conversely, we cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater because of the corrupt actions of a few. The legal system needs to be improved and its fairness to all enhanced, but human institutions are not perfect. While most of my colleagues are reasonable, it is not reasonable to exempt misdemeanor gun crimes from bailable offenses based on the assumption that some people will be falsely accused. The protections for society need to remain in place while at the same time taking steps to assure fairness in the system. There are plenty of opportunities to meet in the middle with those principles in mind.
AV: I will be a consensus builder in Albany and promise to work with any person of good will from any party or background. The problems our state is facing won’t be fixed unless we can find common ground and make the necessary changes. I see education and economic development as issues we can work cooperatively on.
Q: If elected, what would you do, or continue to do, for the Town of Colonie?
PS: In my time in the Assembly, we have brought more than $7.5 million into the town for things like expanding our town library, aid to our Police Department, affordable housing for seniors, rehabilitation of town parks including our aging town pool, and redoing the entire portion of the Mohawk-Hudson Bike Path that is located in Colonie. If re-elected, as a member of the Assembly majority with increasing seniority, I will be in a position to fund additional similar projects. We work with the Colonie Town Supervisor’s Office, regardless of party, to identify the most pressing needs in the Town. I grew up and have lived virtually my whole life in the Town of Colonie. No one is more committed to keeping all the great features of our town and working to make them even better for generations to come.
AV: Colonie is my home town and I will do whatever I can to help its citizens. That starts with putting in place a first class constituent services operation that treats everyone with kindness and respect. I want to be a legislator with an open door policy so I can make sure that every voice is heard and every opinion is considered. This is an area I believe my opponent has fallen down on and I can tell you I certainly will not. I am also fortunate to have the support of current Colonie town supervisor, Peter Crummey and I know that if I am elected Peter and I will work as a team to continue revitalizing Colonie and effectuate the changes that Colonie residents want to see.
Prior to Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 8, early voting continues through Sunday, Nov. 6. Polls are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday. They are open noon to 8 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday.
Any registered voter in Albany County can vote at the following locations:
Albany County Board of Elections at 260 South Pearl St. in Albany.
Berne Volunteer Fire Company at 30 Canaday Hill Road in Berne
Bethlehem Lutheran Church at 85 Elm Ave. in Bethlehem
North Bethlehem Fire Department at 589 Russell Road in Albany
Pine Grove United Methodist Church at 1580 Central Ave. in Colonie
Boght Community Fire Department at 8 Preston Drive in Cohoes
Guilderland Public Library at 2228 Western Ave. in Guilderland.