Interview with Chris Salatino, Assembly Candidate NY-119 By Luke Perry
Chris Salatino is running for the New York State Assembly in District 119. This is an open seat with Anthony Brindisi running for Congress. The district includes Utica and Rome. I interviewed Mr. Salatino on May 11, 2018 at his campaign headquarters.
Salatino is a public adjuster who has served as president of the Utica School Board for the past decade. His campaign website identifies three reasons for running: 1) “to improve local schools; 2) grow our local economy; and 3) improve the quality of life for our region.” We spoke at length about each topic.
“I’m a business guy,” Salatino began, who undertook school board service “to advocate for the voices people don’t hear.” He quickly realized that “the public sector and private sector are like black and white.” Salatino learned that progress can be made if “you show you’re enthusiastic” and “promise to do the right thing.”
As an example, Salatino referenced the Utica School Board being denied capital project funding. He went to Albany with a five point plan, was awarded $186 million, and personally devoted himself to ensuring the success of the project, which was completed under budget and on time.
Mr. Salatino believes that “small businesses are the backbone of our community.” Generating economic growth is a “difficult process.” As a business owner, Salatino understands the barriers- access to credit and markets, high operations costs. There isn’t a lot of money for businesses to come in, and “when tax incentives leave, businesses leave.”
New programs are needed to help attract new business, while eliminating fraud and waste. The area has “everything you need for businesses to be successful” and “good things are happening,” including nanotechnology and a downtown hospital.
When asked about the hospital debate, Salatino engages this issue as someone who has had no control over the process. “We need a hospital here,” Salatino said, “no doubt.” He looks at the money the state is going to provide and wants it to “build the best healthcare facility possible,” not go elsewhere. Practicing modern medicine in buildings from the 1940s and 1950s is not feasible, while rehabs can cost more than new buildings.
Quality of Life
Mr. Salatino identified housing, safety, and mentoring as priorities for enhancing quality of life for constituents. Utica is the third poorest school district in the state with 90 percent of students participating in the free school lunch program. For some, “the only meal they can get is in school.”
Salatino would seek to bring in money for housing and bring back civic organizations, such as Boys and Girl Clubs, which help keep kids off the streets. Salatino cited Fredrick Douglass who said: “it is easier to build strong children than fix broken men.”
When asked about the sources of poverty in Utica, Salatino cited barriers to the refugee population (ex. language), having economic drivers that provide good paying jobs, and education. There is “no short term fix.”
When asked about why he is running as a Democrat, Salatino said he “identifies with the party’s ideals.” His public service has focused on “tending to the neediest people” by “making sure we had necessary social programs” and “help ensuring people have a quality education.”
Salatino said Assemblyman Brindisi has done a “great job” and represented the district in an “interesting and unique way.” Salatino’s campaign slogan, “keep moving forward,” reflects Brindisi's positive work.
The two have common goals, though their style is a bit different. When asked about the latter, Salatino said he “has a stronger personality in some ways.”
When asked about whether unified or divided state government is best for upstate, Salatino stated that “government should work together regardless.” Taking care of constituents is always paramount. “Things have worked well with Griffo and Brindisi,” Salatino said. He “will work with whomever necessary.”
Salatino was critical of the “culture in Albany,” characterized by “fraud and waste,” and “politicians protecting politicians.” He supports ethics reform and campaign finance reform.
Salatino also expressed concern about developments in national politics negatively impacting local constituents. For example, Salatino believes a new Supreme Court Justice appointed by President Trump “would hurt women’s rights.” Salatino supports Governor Cuomo’s proposed constitutional amendment codifying Roe v. Wade into the state constitution.
Salatino was generally supportive of the governor, who “has lots to deal with,” including budgetary constraints and high unemployment. After initial “disconnect with education funding,” the governor “did listen” and “went back to foundation aid.”
When asked about the campaign, Salatino praised his campaign committee, which includes professionals in business, public relations, and politics. Watching them work is a “very exciting part of the campaign” as “strengths and minds come together” to form “the best team in the world.”
Salatino said it was a “difficult decision” to turn his business over to his son, but “the only thing I’m focused on now is getting to know everybody in the community.”
When asked about one thing most people don’t know about him, Salatino said people see him as serious, but he “has a lot of fun, enjoys life,” and has “a great sense of humor.” Few know he likes to take rides on his Harley at night to clear his head and relieve stress.
Chris Salatino’s message on the campaign trail is “we’re here for you.” He stayed on the school board for eleven years “because we made good things happen.” Salatino would “be honored if people elect him” to do the same for NY-119.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.