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Guest Column: Leslie Danks Burke

"Stay engaged, even after elections"

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Dec. 7, 2016 -- Losing a hard fought election isn’t easy, but I have much to be grateful for. I thank the almost 3,000 residents of Schuyler County who cast their ballot for me as NY State Senator last month. Folks in towns and villages from Hector to Montour Falls, and Cayuta to Tyrone stood together to support my focus on Jobs, Schools, and Farms. I cherish many memories from the campaign, and one event particularly stays with me because it shows how important citizen voices are.

Overdosing is the leading cause of accidental death for young people in villages such as Odessa and Watkins Glen. Once a month, over in Yates County, the Penn Yan Elks Club hosts “Dinner with A Purpose” to raise money for the Yates Substance Abuse Coalition (YSAC). In turn, YSAC pulls together dozens of people -- law enforcement personnel, district attorneys, addicts, family members, educators, health care workers -- for a standing conversation about smart responses to the crisis ripping through the community. On a visit to Penn Yan earlier this year, I got to attend a YSAC meeting where I heard stories of astounding courage, grit, and compassion.

Nearly everyone who spoke -- law enforcement officials, health care workers, families -- called for an inpatient treatment center, nearby access to care, and cutting insurance red tape that wastes precious hours when an addict seeks help. Our priority is not to arrest users, said the deputy sheriff, we want to stop this crisis. We want you to know about drop-off locations, we want to get you to a treatment facility, said the district attorney. We want help for our loved ones, said the families, and I watched the law enforcement personnel reply with compassion, understanding, and pragmatic advice, despite a startling lack of resources.

I lost an election, but young people throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes are losing their lives to opioid and heroin addiction. If I had been elected, I would have fought hard to expand treatment centers across the 58th Senate District. I also would have fought against the powerful and deep-pocketed insurance and drug companies that write our drug laws in Albany.

Like most of us, I don’t hold elected office now, but I will continue to raise my voice about a crisis that is enveloping our communities, and I hope you will too.

President-elect Trump and members of Congress like Tom Reed are pledging to cut Medicare and other health care programs. Proposed changes would cut access to addiction treatment for many of the more than 4,000 people in Schuyler County who depend on Medicaid. National leaders like Designate Attorney General Jeff Sessions want to fight nonviolent drug problems with prison instead of health care. Even though in this region we sent the same incumbents back into office, America voted for change, and, I, for one, will oppose going backwards in dealing with addiction.

If there was a theme to this year’s election, it was about more voices coming to the table across the political spectrum. Voter turnout was high in Schuyler County, and our engaged citizens are very valuable to our communities after election season, too. Active citizens can demand action on the crisis of addiction and other issues. Speak up loudly. Attend local government meetings to make yourself heard. Write a letter to The Odessa File. Call your local town board member to find out what’s going on. Attend town meetings when Senator O’Mara or Congressman Reed sponsors one in Schuyler County. Stay in touch with me or other nonelected people who are talking about issues you care about. Join your local political committee, or even leap in to run for local office yourself. We can demand real solutions for addiction, gun legislation that actually considers the voices of rural New Yorkers, good public schools, a fair playing field for local businesses and farms, and a dignified old age for our seniors.

I may have lost the election, but I’m still committed to the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes. Let’s stay on top of our leaders to keep pushing for the change we need here. Let’s get to work.

Leslie Danks Burke recently ran unsuccessfully for New York State Senate in the 58th district against incumbent Senator Tom O’Mara. The district includes the counties of Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben, Yates, and part of Tompkins.

Photo in text: Leslie Danks Burke


Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Carl Blowers, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Carl Blowers

Van Harp

Jim Howell

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Michael Lausell

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Mark Rondinaro

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Harriett Vickio, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791


© The Odessa File 2016
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869