Mary “Betsy” Kraat has personally experienced the Hudson Valley’s housing crisis.
The Kingston-born Kraat has been evicted twice in her hometown, the second time after refusing to pay rent during a bedbug infestation.
Trying to find housing on a limited budget with two children proved impossible in the city. Every rental advertisement received dozens of responses within a couple days.
“If you can rent to somebody whose only going be there on the weekends, or to a couple renting a two-bedroom – of course you’re going to, and not to me and my two kids and my SSI,” Kraat, who receives the income supplement because her son is autistic, said. “I had to get out.”
Kraat now lives in Section 8 housing with her children in Hunter in the northern Catskills. She became part of the Kingston Tenant’s Union in 2018 and testified to a state Senate committee about the region’s housing crisis during the push for rent stabilization last year.
A progressive political activist and master’s candidate for social work at Fordham University, Kraat, 46, is looking to unseat Assemblyman Chris Tague, the freshman Republican representing New York’s 102nd District. The District includes all of Greene and Schoharie counties, as well as parts of Delaware, Columbia and Ostego counties, and Saugerties in Ulster County.
She supports state-wide universal healthcare, marijuana reform, tenant protections and restrictions on short-term rentals (STRs) such as Airbnbs.
It will be an uphill battle. The 102nd District leans right, with more than 33,300 residents registered with the Republican or Conservative parties, versus about 24,700 registered Democrats, according to the New York State Board of Elections (BOE).
Tague won the seat after a special election against Democrat Aidan O’Connor in April 2018 to replace Assemblyman Pete Lopez. Tague won by less than 200 votes, according to the BOE.
Kraat’s campaign has also been stymied by the pandemic.
“No one can really do anything, and if you do, it’s at your peril,” Kraat said.
Although Kraat has appeared at several Black Lives Matters protests, one of her sons has impaired lung function, and she has to be careful.
She released her first campaign video June 22 and plans to release others.
Kraat phone-banked and organized events for democratic candidate Gareth Rhodes during the 2018 democratic congressional primary. Rhodes ultimately lost to Antonio Delgado, who went on to defeat incumbent John Faso.
A major issue in the 2018 primaries was healthcare, and Kraat is currently pushing for the New York Health Act.
The act would provide universal, single-payer health insurance to all New Yorkers. The system relies on a massive state income tax hike – the RAND Corporation estimated an additional $139 billion in taxes would be needed to fund the system, a 156-percent increase over current total tax revenue.
However, the Rand Corporation estimated the bottom 90 percent of income-earners would actually come out ahead, because they would save more on health costs than they would pay in new taxes.
These estimates were made before state coffers took a massive hit from the coronavirus pandemic, and I asked Kraat if this was a still a good time for the program.
“I don’t think we have any choice, honestly,” she said.
The state needs a solid healthcare system to streamline the response to the pandemic, Kraat said. Moreover, the issue was ethical.
“It is morally wrong to have someone’s death connected to the kind of work that they do and whether they have health insurance,” she said. “We’ve accepted this, that certain kinds of jobs…mean you don’t live as long. It’s insanity.”
Universal healthcare is imperative during the pandemic, Kraat said, when essential workers, whose jobs rarely offer insurance, are at risk.
“We’re saying: Go risk your lives, but we don’t think you’re worth health insurance,” she said. It was time for a revolutionary way of thinking involving strong government actions, Kraat added, saying the alternative in this situation “is death.”
Kraat is in favor of marijuana legalization and wants farmers in the 102nd District to be able to profit from the cash crop.
She favored requiring marijuana to be locally produced, especially because farmers who grow CBD cannabis could easily convert to growing marijuana.
CBD cannabis contains only minimal amounts of the psychotropic chemical THC and can be legally grown in the state.
“That’s going to be a growth area for us, and I want to find a way to bring that money to our district, because we need it,” Kraat said.
Kraat wants to regulate STRs so only homes occupied by their owners could be rented out. She would also support a state-wide occupancy tax on the rentals.
STRs have inundated the Catskills in recent years. In 2019, there were more Airbnb guests in Greene County than there were residents.
Kraat talked of the effect STRs had on communities in the Catskills, saying some visitors from NYC ended up buying properties, then opening businesses that catered only to other visitors from NYC.
“When you hashtag “#EscapeBrooklyn” in a social media post, it’s a slap in the face to me,” she said.
As for Tague, Kraat said he has only defined his tenure in opposition to Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, instead of setting up and achieving his own list of priorities.
“All Chris Tague has done is vote no,” she said.
Of Tague’s last ten news releases, nine of them are about opposing an action of Cuomo’s, such as the governor’s continuing State of Emergency powers and his reversal on allowing gyms to operate in Phase IV of the state’s reopening plan.
Tague could not be reached for comment.
The election for the 102nd Assembly District is Tuesday, November 4.