The race for the 41st state senate seat currently held by Democrat Terry Gipson took yet another dramatic turn last week as County Legislator Sue Serino announced her intention to enter the fray.  Serino joins County Legislature Chair Rob Rolison, Poughkeepsie Mayor John Tkazyik and County Comptroller Jim Coughlan as declared candidates.  The four Republicans will face each other in a September primary.

Serino's political trajectory has been ascending in recent years as she has risen from Hyde Park town board member to county legislator in short order.  The personable Serino managed to emerge from the political and fiscal disaster that was the 2009-2011 town board unscathed.  Her willingness to vote against what she considered bad policies resonated with voters and propelled her from the town board to the county legislature.

Serino was expected to run for the assembly seat currently occupied by Democrat Didi Barrett.  However, Serino told Hudson Valley News she came to believe she could do more for her constituents as a member of the majority in the state senate than as an assemblywoman in the minority in Albany.  Serino, who owns her own real estate company in Hyde Park, is also better known in the senate district that the assembly district.

The entrance of Serino into the race very much changes the dynamic.  She will be the only female in the race and brings no real negatives to the contest.  Rolison, on the other hand, has been saddled with his role in pushing the home energy tax through the legislature.  Even though the tax has since been rescheduled, many voters are still angry about it.

County Comptroller Jim Coughlan has been battling a smear campaign for weeks accusing him of harboring racist tendencies by his retweeting a few questionable tweets. Coughlan strongly disputes the charges, and told Hudson Valley News on Sunday that he intends to push back hard and stay in the race.

Poughkeepsie Mayor John Tkazyik has not been much of a factor to date and chose not to put his name in nomination at the Republican convention in February.  At the convention, Rolison received 58 percent of the delegate votes to Coughlan's 42 percent. The issue for Tkazyik is his record as mayor in Poughkeepsie which has seen a dramatic increase in crime and violence on his watch.  Until very recently, most political observers questioned whether Tkazyik was really in the race for the long haul or simply keeping his name out there as he is term-limited out of the mayor's job next year.

Tkazyik issued a press release this past weekend that contained nasty personal comments on both Serino and Rolison.

Serino's candidacy injects an interesting dynamic given her record.  Serino has a reputation as an extremely nice and positive person.  But she has also proven willing to buck her own party if she feels they are going in the wrong direction.  She was one of a very small number of republicans who opposed the county executive and the Republican leadership on the home energy tax.  She has also been skeptical of a proposed new county jail, instead focusing on considering other alternatives.  Her willingness to vote her beliefs has won the grudging respect of Democrats and Republicans alike.  Serino hopes to bring that attitude to Albany.

In conversations with both political insiders and residents, the initial read on Serino's candidacy is she's now the frontrunner in a crowded field.  Serino has been quoted as saying she's a big believer in Ronald Regan's 11th  commandment, "Thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican."  Serino hopes her opponents honor that sentiment and that voters make a decision on the merits, not politics.

As for an opponent for Didi Barret in the 106th district, early word is county legislator Mike Kelsey will step up.


Hudson Valley News  |  By Jim Langan  |  May 14-20, 2014