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Harckham Looks to Fend Off Challenger Arena in 40th Senate District

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Gina Arena and Sen. Peter Harckham

State Sen. Peter Harckham (D-Lewisboro) isn’t one to rest on his laurels.

Despite sponsoring more than 50 pieces of approved legislation this year alone, including 23 related to substance abuse and treatment, the two-term senator wants to accomplish more.

“There’s still work to be done,” Harckham said. “Our economy is facing challenges, we’re still coming out of COVID, we have more work to do on education.”

This election cycle, his opponent in the 40th Senate District is Republican Gina Arena of Somers. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Arena ran twice, in 2019 and 2021, for the Westchester Board of Legislators. She said those two candidacies were valuable learning experiences, opportunities to become more knowledgeable about the process, her community and herself.

“I’m a people person, so I felt like I wasn’t done,” Arena said. “I felt like there was something, there was more (to give).”

For Arena, this year’s election is about affordability for families and keeping local communities safe in northern Westchester and Putnam County. She said her children can’t afford to remain here like she and her husband were able to do after growing up in Bedford and Katonah, respectively.

“The idea that they can’t have what we had makes me sad and I want to make it easier for people,” said Arena, who works for Westchester County’s Department of Labs and Research.

State representatives often talk about bringing state money home to help constituents, but she said that’s not helping households. The acceleration of the middle-class tax cut to next year is nice, but Arena said it is insufficient because of high school taxes, soaring energy prices and inflation.

Arena would also like to see the permanent suspension of the gas tax, something that Republicans have previously proposed.

Harckham said there has been tax savings with the introduction of the enhanced STAR program for seniors and property tax relief, initiatives that have saved $2 billion each.

His proposal for as-of-right accessory dwelling units was strenuously denounced by municipal leaders in both parties earlier this year, but Harckham said that is an issue that must be addressed to make the state more affordable.

“It’s a state issue and it’s a local issue and we have to continue to work together because the Regional Plan Association tells us that we’re not building units, enough housing units of any kind to keep pace with jobs being created,” Harckham said.

Arena said public safety is the other top issue. She draws a correlation between bail reform and the state’s higher crime rate. She said the legislature correctly identified trying to help suspects of minor offenses so they wouldn’t be incarcerated for months if they couldn’t afford bail, but neglected to consult the experts.

“You have to ask the boots on the ground what works and what doesn’t work,” Arena said. “When you don’t do that, you’re going to have a failure.”

She said Harckham has cited lower crime rates in the district, but there have been serious crimes taking place that until now have been foreign to most local residents.

Harckham said the increase in crime in Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx have skewed the statewide numbers. Crime is down 10 percent in Westchester and 9 percent in Putnam over the past year, he said.

“We have good police departments, but we have the holistic ingredients for safe communities,” Harckham said. “We have good schools with robust afterschool programs, we have world class healthcare, we have access to jobs, transportation, social services. These are things that are the denominators.”

Harckham proudly points to his record in passing nearly two dozen substance abuse bills in 2022 alone, possibly none more important than ending prior notification for Medicaid-assisted treatment.

The senator also cited his commitment to infrastructure, including helping to secure money for the Route 9A corridor study. He is working on funding a Route 35 study from the Connecticut border to the Hudson River.

Arena said as a mother of eight children (she lost one son to brain cancer), including a daughter with autism and another who battled opioid addiction, she is aware of the immense challenges facing families who must navigate schools, healthcare and social services. Despite improvements, Arena wants to help other families.

“Parents are still struggling,” Arena said.

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