State Senate Candidate Pete Harckham Visits Pace Ahead of NY Primary


Democratic Candidate for the New York Senate’s 40th district Peter Harckham (middle), spoke with Claudia Fontanet (left) and Breana Battles (right) about his campaign, just days ahead of Thursday’s primary. Photo by Kwadar Ray.

Kwadar Ray and Victor Diaz

Pete Harckham, a Democratic candidate for the 40th New York State Senate District, already has endorsements from Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, former Congressman John Hall, County Executive George Latimer, and most prominently, Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Despite the support from prominent politicians in the state/district, the former Westchester County legislator prefers to speak directly to the communities he aims to represent including parts of Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess Counties. 

Harckham’s affinity for personally addressing his constituents is why he accepted an invitation from the Pace Political Science Association (PSA) to speak to a small group of students for more than an hour about his campaign Monday evening at the Kessel Student Center, a few days before Thursday’s New York state primary. 

The South Salem resident, who worked for three years in Cuomo’s administration, is running in the primary against Robert Kesten, a friend of his whose campaign he donated to before he encouraged by colleagues and Governor Cuomo to run against him.

Kesten criticized Harckham’s decision to join the race in May, as the decision was made one year into Kesten’s campaign. In a recent radio interview on WVOX “High Noon,” Kesten said Harckham’s run could cause a split in the Democratic party.

Harckham disagreed with that notion, saying there is no disagreement on the democratic message, but only who the messenger should be. 

“I don’t think there is a split in the party because we’re aligned on values, policies and beating [incumbent senator] Terrence Murphy,” Harckham told students. “We’re aligned on turning the senate blue. The difference is I think I have a better shot to win. I’ve run tough races against republicans, I’ve beaten republicans during the height of the Tea party. At the end of the day, it’s business above friendship when it comes to this.”

What Harckham has that Kesten does not is Governor Cuomo’s endorsement, and while he is grateful for the governor’s stamp of approval, he understands how it can be problematic for certain voters.

“Having [Cuomo] as an ally is important but on the other hand, within the activist wing of the party, it’s a detraction,” he said. “People say ‘Oh he’s a Cuomo guy,’ and I’m not. I’ve had my own experience as a legislator. So while I’m pleased to have the governor’s backing, my responsibility is to the constituents.” 

Harckham said he will support any democrat that wins Thursday night in the Democratic primary–including Cynthia Nixon– because “the stakes are too high right now” for infighting.

“The difference between republicans and democrats right now are night and day,” he said. “You can’t have people taking up space in Albany that are either obstructionists or promoting Trump’s agenda.”

Harckham does not plan on being an obstructionist in Albany. While his age admittedly does not convey a sense of a new face, his ideological footing can make it seem like so.

The former legislator’s campaign focuses on building a coalition of republicans, democrats and independents who are disillusioned with Washington D.C.

Gaining conservative votes may seem like wishful thinking considering Harckham’s position on many issues, including his support for universal healthcare. However, he believes he can convince right-wing constituents to vote for him in a general election.

“It’s about finding common ground,” he said. “Everyone can buy into a robust community with a good economic base, that’s bipartisan. On healthcare, people are initially reluctant, but when they learn it’s not about reducing the quality of the health insurance they have but it’s guaranteeing everybody else has the same coverage. Terrence Murphy has state-paid healthcare, single payer. So if it’s okay to him and his family, then why is it not okay for his constituency?”

If Harckham pulls off a primary victory, and goes on to defeat Murphy in November, he will look to help the Women’s Reproductive Health Act, the Child’s Victim Act, and the Red Flag Bill get passed. 

He also has his eyes set on bettering educational institutions in the district, including Pace.

“Education is really the most important economic investment we can make because the quality of our education then reflected by the quality of our work,” he said. “The senate will help fund projects. So if Pace, for example, needs a new science lab, the state is critically important in partnering to help that get build. The state’s relationship with universities are vital to keep and we need to keep that alive in the senate.”

He later touched on why college students and other young voters should become active in local politics.

“It’s so important and so important to get involved because we need to know what’s on your mind, what’s important to you and we also need leaders from your generation to emerge,” he said. “You can make a difference with both a vote and your activism.”

Claudia Fontanet and Breanna Battles of Pace’s PSA planned Harckham’s visit to Pace. They were shocked he agreed to meet with students this close to the election. 

“Especially since it’s the week of the election, I was surprised that he came to speak with us,” Battles said. 

“Like he said, he likes talking to people personally and going right up to the voters,” Fontanet said. “I guess that’s why he was so enthusiastic coming and talking to Pace students.”

Fontanet said there are further plans to have politicians, guest speakers, and experts visit Pace to inform students on political issues.

“It’s so important to create that awareness, especially as college students because like Obama said ‘Don’t boo, vote,’” she said. “It’s important to talk about those things, so I’m glad we were able to get him and I hope we’ll get more experts, guest speakers or politicians.”