Candidates for Assembly District 94 spar over campaign practices

Assemblyman Kevin Byrne at a public health hearing in May. Photo courtesy of The New York State Assembly.

Spread between Westchester and Putnam counties, District 94 is looking at a third-term from Republican Assemblyman Kevin Byrne. On Nov. 3, more than 90,360 active voters will decide if Byrne, or his opponent Democrat Stephanie Keegan, will win.

In 2016, former Republican Assemblyman Stephen Katz did not seek reelection. Assemblyman Byrne ran for office and won the primary election with approximately 60 percent of the vote over Suzanne McDonough. 

After Assemblyman Byrne won in 2016 over Democrat Brian Higbie, he campaigned for reelection in 2018 and defeated Democrat Vedat Gashi. In 2020, he is up against Keegan.

Keegan’s campaign is focused on advocacy for veterans, affordable health care, mental health and addiction services, and the protection of natural resources in District 94.

On Mother’s Day in 2016, Keegan buried her son, who served for eight years in the 82nd Airborne, with 26 months in Kandahar, Afghanistan. According to Keegan’s campaign website, her son Daniel never made it to his first VA appointment. Overall, her goal is to defend veterans like her son who did not receive the help or treatment they needed.

Stephanie Keegan

“At the end of his life he had developed an infection, from his intermittent drug use, that he thought was the flu. The last time he called the VA he was on hold for six and a half hours. That was about a week before he died,” Keegan wrote in a Ballotpedia survey. “I did everything I could to support him, but I couldn’t save him. Had I known it was more than the flu I would have been down there and he might still be alive. Those last years of his life were heartbreaking, but we spoke everyday and I knew about the veterans advocacy he wanted to do when he got well. After his death I left my job at CareMount to do the work for him.”

Keegan said the issues of public health, protecting students from gun violence by barring campus officials from carrying weapons, supporting of diverse businesses are her priorities if elected.

District 94 comprises six towns such as Carmel, Patterson, Putnam Valley, Somers, Southeast and Yorktown, the village of Brewster and 13 unincorporated communities.

The demographic of the district is predominantly white, representing 80.5 percent of the population. The remaining part of the 129,187 people represented are Hispanic (12.4 percent ), Black (2.4 percent), Asian (3.2 percent), mixed (1.1 percent) or other (0.4 percent).

As of February 2020, in the Putnam County portion of the district, there are 48, 596 active voters: 13,971 Democrats, 17,569 Republicans, 2,849 Independence Party and 1,342 Conservatives. There are also 12,538 active independent voters in that part of the district.

In the Westchester County portion of District 94, there are 14,777 active Democratic voters, 13,461 Republicans, 2,001 Independence Party and 784 are Conservative. There are less than 100 active voters on any other ticket and 10,533 active independent voters. 

Assemblyman Byrne is running on the Republican, Conservative, Independence, SAM-NY and Rebuild Our State tickets. In Westchester County, Byrne is the only Republican state legislator. 

Assemblyman Byrne’s campaign prioritizes reducing taxes, growing job opportunities for economic growth, preventing public corruption with transparency between him and his constituents, supporting first responders, fighting the drug crisis in this high-intensity drug trafficking area and advocating for veteran housing and healthcare services.

Byrne himself is a former three-term department president who volunteered as an EMT and firefighter at the Kent Volunteer Fire Department — he consistently fought for cancer health care coverage for volunteer firefighters. According to his website, property taxes would increase by 27 percent on average statewide if there were no volunteer firefighters. 

Legislative Gazette photo by Susanna Granieri
Kevin Byrne campaign sign in Putnam Valley, New York.

He currently serves as the ranking minority member on the Health Committee, chairs the Assembly Minority Program Committee and is on the Insurance, Labor, Transportation and Governmental Operations Committees.

Byrne also serves as the New York state chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

In August, at a racial justice rally in the 40th District, someone had a “F*ck Black Lives” sign on their truck. Three days later on Aug. 25, Keegan shared a photo posted on Facebook from the Putnam Young Democrats of Assemblyman Byrne next to the truck, and stated that: “Kevin Byrne refuses to condemn racist attacks on his district,” according to the Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee. 

The FCPC ruled that Keegan used unfair campaign practices against Byrne.

On Oct. 2, Assemblyman Byrne filed two complaints with the FCPC against Keegan; one for “creating a false and misleading impression” that he “refused to condemn a racist attack,” and another for creating a false narrative that he is “associated with racist behavior.”

Regarding the first complaint, the findings of the FCPC stated that: “The word ‘refused’ implies that there was a request to condemn that Mr. Byrne rejected. There was no evidence that Mr. Byrne ‘refused’ to condemn a racist incident in his district. On Aug. 23, 2020, Mr. Byrne condemned the incident on a resident’s Facebook page, and on Aug. 25, 2020, Mr. Byrne posted a condemnation on his own Facebook page. The Committee does recognize that social media creates significant challenges and layers of complexities for candidates.”

Byrne’s second complaint showed that Keegan violated the FCPC principle that “the candidate will not use or condone any campaign material…that misleads the public.” The committee believed there was not any evidence to allude that Byrne was associated with the truck in the incident.

From  Oct. 24 to Nov. 1, early voting polls are open at the Putnam County Board of Elections Office in Carmel. On Nov. 3, residents of District 94 will decide who will represent them for the next two years.