Bob Antonacci, the Republican candidate for the 50th Senate District seat, has seen the mailers linking him to the National Rifle Association. As he dismissed the literature as false attacks on his campaign, he detailed his ideas for combating gun violence.
His first priority is school safety. He will release a plan soon focused on school resource officers, law enforcement officers who are assigned to schools. Some schools have SROs and have a steady funding stream to have an officer on campus. But for some districts, especially those already facing tight budgets, investing in SROs can be a challenge.
"We have to protect our children," Antonacci said in an interview with The Citizen Friday.
He also supports a greater focus on mental health resources. He believes the state should allocate more funding for mental health services and treatment.
Antonacci is a proponent of the Second Amendment. While he said the state should "respect people's rights," he acknowledged that it may difficult to make any changes or repeal the SAFE Act, a 2013 gun control law adopted by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Some Republicans have called for the repeal of the SAFE Act and there have been bills introduced in the state Legislature to achieve that goal. But with Cuomo in office and Democratic state Assembly, a repeal measure has zero chance of passing.
For Antonacci, the bigger problem with the SAFE Act is how it was rushed through the state Legislature. He criticized "the process in Albany," which he said should be "giving the public an opportunity to be heard on these very important matters."
During the interview, Antonacci also outlined his ideas for addressing public corruption in state government. His opponent, Democratic candidate John Mannion, released a five-point ethics reform plan two weeks ago.
Antonacci and Mannion share some of the same positions on ethics reform. They agree that term limits are needed. Antonacci bemoaned the current political system that enables lawmakers to stay in office for as long as they want. The incumbents have the advantage, and build up sizable campaign bank accounts to fend off any challengers.
"It's tough to combat the establishment," he said.
He also plans to advocate for campaign finance reform and, specifically, closing the LLC loophole. The loophole in state election law allows wealthy individuals to form multiple limited liability corporations that are then used to donate funds to candidates.
Antonacci doesn't believe the executive branch should have a say in who serves on an ethics board, most notably, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. JCOPE has come under fire because of its handling of ethics complaints against the Cuomo administration.
He supports restoring the state comptroller's authority to oversee economic development projects. Retiring state Sen. John DeFrancisco sponsored the legislation, the Procurement Integrity Act. There is bipartisan support for the proposal, but it hasn't advanced in the state Legislature.
He does support banning outside income and is open to a full-time state Legislature. However, he thinks the bigger issue is conflicts of interest.
"It's not necessarily about what an elected official does in their spare so long as there's not a conflict of interest," he added.
Antonacci has been criticized in Democratic-funded mailers for opposing a ban on outside income for Onondaga County officials. The prohibition was proposed by soon-to-be former Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, who often clashed with Antonacci.
"I comply fully with the law," he said, adding that he officiated high school basketball games last year for no compensation.
This week, Antonacci will join Mannion for a joint appearance at the Baldwinsville Public Library. The town hall meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Mannion announced a handful of forums and invited Antonacci to join him for the events. Antonacci couldn't make the first town hall meeting in Camillus, but he appeared at the second on Thursday in North Syracuse.
Antonacci wasn't sure if he would be able to make the final two in Auburn and East Syracuse, but he's hoping to attend.
"I'm all for getting out and seeing the people," he said. "You just want to make sure it's a fair process and both candidates have an opportunity to be heard."