Justin Wagner, a 30-year-old Croton lawyer who was raised in Dutchess County, announced that he has filed the paper work to run for the state senate seat currently held by Senator Greg Ball. Wagner will begin raising money to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for the 2012 bid.
“I am running to talk about two issues—job creation and reforming Albany,” said Wagner. “I grew up in the Hudson Valley and I see a lot of the opportunities that were afforded the middle class families, from 15 to 20 years ago when I was growing up, really declining. I think the state government has done very little to address the needs of the middle class families in the region.”
The litigation lawyer for the New York City firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges, thinks that 2012 will be an important election year, both on a national and state level, and the results will impact the local region.
“I think we can have better representation than we do right now,” Wagner said. “The representation we have right now in the Hudson Valley is Senator Greg Ball, and while I do not have anything personal against him I think his positions are out of the mainstream of what people here in the region believe.” As examples he cited Ball’s vote against the equality pay for women, marriage equality and his stance against accepting federal funding to establish health benefit exchanges.
“Whatever someone’s stance on the national health care reform law, it is the law. There is federal funding available to set up health care exchanges in the state, which would provide more choices and competition for consumers,” Wagner stated. “Senator Ball is fighting that. I would not. When there is federal funding available to help people get health care through more competition I would not be fighting that.”
“I would be a more pragmatic and less ideologically driven state senator,” he said. “We need pragmatic solutions.” One idea he has is for the state to partner with the private sector and private universities and create a state-of-the-art teaching academy that he refers to as “a West Point for teachers.”
“We recruit the best educators to teach young people to become teachers,” Wagner described. “Then after they graduate this academy we keep them in New York State teaching our children. We keep them in the state by offering them tax incentives and tuition incentives.”
Realizing that tax incentives are traditionally part of the Republican mantra, the devote Democrat said, “I am not interested in party line ideas, I am interested in ideas that are going to bring jobs to the region. I think our corporations and the wealthy have to pay their fair share, but in terms of job creation we need to use every tool in our tool kit and if ones of those is a tax policy that is fine with me.”
Wagner, who has lived in Croton with his wife Christine since 2009, grew up in LaGrange. His mother is a teacher in the Pawling school district. His father has worked for IBM since he was 22 years old. Passionate about government he went to Georgetown University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in government and economics and graduated law school.
While in his sophomore year at Georgetown, Wagner was elected to Washington D.C.’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission. “I was one of the youngest elected public officials in the city’s history,” he said.
During his two-year term he worked with the safety commission and helped set up a text-based emergency system pilot program that now many communities have. “In 2002 was still new, where we would alert people via text or email about emergencies and it is a program that they still use today,” Wagner added.
In addition to working for the campaigns of various Democratic candidates, Wagner is also a district leader and a community organizer for Organizing for American (formerly Obama for America). He was prominently featured during the May protest held in Peekskill against Ball’s alleged change-of-heart over independent redistricting.
Ball signed former NYC mayor Ed Koch’s NY Uprising pledge which supports independent redistricting, responsible budgeting and ethics reform. He was one of 138 elected officials who signed the pledge.
In March, Ball voted in favor of the Senate bill S.3331, which created an independent, non-partisan, apportionment committee to draw new legislative and Congressional districts every ten years, but postponed the measure until the next redistricting that is to be done in 2021. Koch’s pledge sought immediate change in the approach to redistricting.
“I think it is a travesty that the legislature is drawing their own district lines; it is outrageous,” said Wagner. “I think government reform need to be at the center of anything that gets worked on. We have to reform their ways on campaign finance, we need to implement new ethics rules and we need to change the way re-districting in done.”
Wagner stressed that he is after the position is not specifically going after Ball. “There are several variables in play right now that may not have me challenging Ball for the seat,” he stated. “The re-districting lines have not been drawn yet so no one really knows who will be in which district.” There are also rumors that Ball will opt to primary Congresswoman Nan Hayworth to be part of the New York delegation in the House of Representatives instead of running for re-election to the state senate.
Nevertheless, if Wager and Ball do end up vying for the same seat, the former hopes that they will engage in an issued-based campaign. “I truly hope that unlike other elections that this is one where we are able to talk about issues and ideas and keep the personal stuff out of it,” said Wagner. “I think we could really debate the issues and let the voters decide.”
“As always, the Senator is focused on creating local jobs and helping taxpayers keep their current jobs,” said Ali Skinner, Ball’s director of operations. “Senator Ball has passed a tax cap, ethics reform and an on time budget that cut spending by 2%, yet still hopes deliver a full repeal of the MTA payroll tax, a freeze on school taxes for seniors and a real jobs plan that invests in infrastructure, small business and people. Once that work is done, and at the end of next session, he’ll transition to the campaign at the proper time.”