Urban CNY Interview: Rachel May Candidate for New York State Senate – Who is She?


Sen. Dave Valesky incumbent Democratic Senator representing the 50th District, lost in his bid for re-election sending shock waves, democrats did not see this coming.  Those monitoring the 2018 election cycle can’t deny the energy that’s emanating from the, “left” base of the Democratic Party. Rachel May hammered away at incumbent Sen. Dave Valesky, effectively using Social Media to paint him as a turn-coat, a member of the Independent Democratic Caucus.  May’s campaign hit Valesky, the longtime incumbent, with a hard left hook.

Urban CNY had several questions for Rachel May, the Democratic Party candidate for the New York State 50th Senate District; the following is a “Q & A” session held with the candidate. We’re sharing the most important parts of our conversation.

Urban CNY: What fueled your run for New York State Senate?

Rachel May: It started with a feeling that we were not being represented; the voters weren’t being represented in Central New York. And there were a number of issues where the State Senate was the blocking point for either passing important democratic priorities, or more importantly like some of the policies coming out of Washington DC, like voting rights and civil rights.

Urban CNY: For those who don’t know you who is Rachel May?

Rachel May: I’m a long-time resident of Syracuse, I’m a mother, my daughter graduated from Nottingham High School, and I’ve worked for the last 15 years at Syracuse University in Environmental Sustainability, which means looking at the whole system of how humans and the natural environment interact.  So, it’s about social issues, it’s about economic issues, and it’s about environmental issues.

I’ve been very involved in the community, both in public service, I’m currently on the Board of Zoning Appeals, I was on the board of OCRRA for many years. I’ve also been involved with many community organizations, I feel that I have deep roots here, and I’m dedicated to seeing the whole region thrive.  Particularly thinking of the city and how it can be an engine of growth for the whole region.

Urban CNY: IDC came up a lot in the Primary Campaign can you explain to people, what is the IDC?

Rachel May: It stands for the Independent Democratic Conference; it was a group of senators who were elected as Democrats, but they chose not to support the Democratic Leadership in the Senate. The result of that was, they were making sure that republicans had the power in the Senate. Just as we see in the Congress, whoever has the gavel has a huge amount of power. They pick who chairs every committee; they decide what comes up for a vote, what gets a hearing. So, the Republicans, even though they didn’t have a majority, the voters hadn’t chose them, the IDC helped chose the republicans to have that power.  It was very frustrating, there were lots and lots of bills that passed easily in the Assembly, but never got a vote in the Senate. My feeling is, there are twice as many Democrats as Republicans in the State of New York, It’s a violation of our democracy for a few Democratic Senators to undermine the will of the voters.

Urban CNY: What would you do Different from Senator Valeski?

Rachel May: Well, our stated positions are pretty similar.  He was a co-sponsor of a number of the bills I support like reforming our election system and healthcare for all. But the difference was that, as a member of the IDC he was also making sure they didn’t ever come up for a vote.   And I want be somebody who really goes to bat for these issues that matter to people in central New York and is an advocate and a fighter for them. And I believe people can see from the primary that I’m a fighter.

Urban CNY: Senator Valesky had support from many in the African American Community, how do you address their concerns, being that you’re the Democratic Party Candidate?

Rachel May: I’ve heard this, a lot. I’ve heard in particular that he was able to bring in member items to the district that were beneficial to, and especially on the Southside of Syracuse, but elsewhere in the district too. And Part of that was part of a function of being in the IDC and the Republican leadership would reward him with those member items.

My feeling is, moving forward, I’m 99.9 % curtain that the democrats are going to be in control of the Senate and are going to have an actual functional majority in the Senate, starting in January. That means that I will be part of the majority party, which will mean that I will have access to member items that I can bring back to the district.

Member items are great, and they help individual organizations and sometimes neighborhoods, but they don’t turn an economy around. They don’t change the whole game. They just are Band-Aids.

I live a mile from the Southside. In the course of the campaign, I have spent countless hours; I have gone to thousands of doors on the Southside to talk to people. I’ve been going to meetings of NAN, and to the Southside TNT, and the inner-city Rotary Club.

I’ve been really trying to understand the issues of the Southside pretty intensively; and also going to celebrations like Juneteenth, and even to sadder events, like the vigil a couple weeks for the 5 people who were shot.

I’m not somebody who’s totally out of touch with what’s going on in the Southside. It’s also in my heart and in my DNA to be working on these issues in particular.

I want to run for office because I care about the concentrated poverty that we see on the Southside.  I think we deal with that by continuing to support the programs that have been effective. But also by looking at this as a policy issue, where we’re thinking about things like, housing instability as something that’s a bigger problem than what…. (pause) Jubilee Homes has done great things, but its capacity is limited. And if we can think of it as a bigger policy issue then, I think we can maybe make a larger difference than that. And that’s my hope.