State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats), left, in May 2014.

Tom O’Mara is currently serving his second two-year term as state senator of New York’s 58th district.

The 58th district — formerly District 53 — includes the city and town of Ithaca, as well as the counties of Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Yates.

O’Mara, a Republican, ran unopposed in 2012 and was elected to his second term. O’Mara defeated Democrat Pamela Mackesey in the November 2010 election, capturing 60 percent of the vote. He was sworn into his first term Jan. 5, 2011.

O’Mara’s district is the one in yellow.
O’Mara’s district is the one in yellow.

A lifelong resident of Chemung County, O’Mara was born and raised in Horseheads, New York. He currently resides in the town of Big Flats, New York, with his wife, Marilyn, and their three children, Catherine, Thomas and Caroline.

Click any of the following 9 subheads to learn more about State Senator O’Mara.

1 – So what policy areas does O’Mara work on in the state senate?
2 – That’s pretty specific. More generally, what priorities has he pursued?
3 – What has he done in terms of health care?
4 – I know that SAFE Act was pretty controversial. What’s his stance on gun rights?
5 – Did he vote for or against gay marriage?
6 – Has O’Mara been involved in the fight against heroin in NY?
7 – Who has tried running against O’Mara?
8 – Where was he educated?
9 – How can I get in touch with O’Mara’s office?

(Did we miss an important issue? If so, email me at jstein@ithacavoice.com and we’ll get it fixed.)

1 – What policy areas does O’Mara work on?

O’Mara was reappointed chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Elections at the beginning of the 2013 legislative session. The committee oversees elections, including primaries, and has discussed issues such as expanding New York City’s taxpayer-funded political campaign system to apply to the entire state.

The senator serves on the Senate Finance Committee, one of two legislative fiscal committees that oversees the development of the annual state budget. In developing the 2014-15 budget, O’Mara pushed for tax cuts that he hopes will create private-sector job growth by attracting businesses to the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions, which he represents, as well as statewide.

O’Mara also serves on the following nine State Senate committees: Agriculture; Banks; Codes; Energy and Telecommunications; Environmental Conservation; Insurance; Investigations and Operations; Judiciary; and Transportation.

Additionally, O’Mara is one of 10 members of the joint, bipartisan Legislative Commission on the Development of Rural Resources, a three-decades-old commission that examines the effect of rural communities on the state economy. With more than two-thirds of state counties designated as rural — including the counties O’Mara represents — the commission focuses on agricultural and economic development, education, land use and other key issues pertaining to these communities.


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2 – What priorities has O’Mara pursued?

Among the senator’s primary concerns are job creation and economic development in his constituency and across the state. On many occasions he has been quoted saying, “Government does not create jobs, business does.”

O’Mara often sponsors legislative efforts that promote business development, specifically those focused on agriculture, tourism and manufacturing, which are key industries for his constituency.

In 2013, he proposed an amendment to the state tax laws to phase out franchise taxes on corporate manufacturers, which was defined as businesses involved in assembling, refining, mining, extracting, farming, agriculture, horticulture, floriculture, viticulture or commercial fishing. The proposal was endorsed by big business organizations across the state.

“It’s time to try something bold for the upstate economy,” O’Mara said in a statement. “I believe it starts with a revitalized upstate manufacturing sector. Manufacturing has always been the economic engine of many upstate communities, and I believe it remains our best hope for revitalization. Government can help lead that effort by cutting taxes. We can start with this pro-job, pro-private-sector, pro-manufacturing tax cut.”

The bill, and other similar legislation sponsored by the senator, has been sent to the Investigations and Government Operations Committee.

O’Mara has also supported measures that provide tax breaks and other incentives to businesses that employ veterans. The senator also regularly sponsors legislation memorializing services members who have been killed in combat.

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3 – Medicaid reform

Medicaid was a driving force in O’Mara’s decision to run for elected office. For many years, he was a member of Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli’s Southern Tier Organization to Reform Medicaid (STORM). The coalition, founded in 2003, aimed to reform Medicaid in New York state and consisted of representatives from Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins and Broome counties.

While serving in the Assembly, O’Mara was a member of the Republican Task Force on Medicaid, Fraud and Abuse. In both state bodies, he has supported reforms and sponsored legislation to transfer Medicaid costs from local governments to the state and to promote more stringent eligibility requirements.

The Senate, in May 2013, unanimously approved legislation co-sponsored by O’Mara that would provide counties with incentives to investigate and prosecute Medicaid fraud. The bill died in the Assembly and was returned to the Senate in January. In his calls for more investigations into Medicaid fraud, O’Mara has advocated for the use of data-mining software.

O’Mara speaks about Medicaid reform in 2012. (Courtesy of O’Mara’s website)
O’Mara speaks about Medicaid reform in 2012. (Courtesy of O’Mara’s website)

Following a February 2014 report that the state recouped more than $851 million in Medicaid fraud recoveries in 2013, O’Mara said:

“It’s important news that our efforts to aggressively target Medicaid abuse, fraud and waste are beginning to pay off the way they should. It also serves to highlight the effectiveness of New York State’s utilization of the cutting-edge, data-mining technology offered by our local Salient Management Company to identify and prevent this fraud. I’ve long called for the more widespread use of Salient’s fraud prevention software in this ongoing effort to stop Medicaid waste. It’s a wise, cost-effective investment that should be expanded.”

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4 – SAFE Act and gun rights

A self-described “avid outdoorsman” and member of the National Rifle Association, O’Mara was one of 18 state senators to vote against the 2013 NY SAFE Act. O’Mara continues to sponsor legislation to repeal the SAFE Act.

Following the Senate’s approval of the measure in January 2013, O’Mara addressed an estimated 5,000 people at a rally in Albany on Feb. 28, 2013.

He said, “I stand with many citizens and local leaders from across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions in opposition to the NY SAFE Act. Equally important, we’re opposed to the shoddy legislative process that produced a law that’s full of failings and shortcomings, and places even more state-imposed burdens on already hard-pressed upstate citizens and localities.”

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5 – Gay marriage

O’Mara voted against the Marriage Equality Act of 2011, which passed the Senate 33-29 and was signed into law June 24, 2011. The law allows for gender-neutral marriages statewide, but also prohibits state and local governments from penalizing religious institutions for refusing to perform or recognize marriages.

While O’Mara has cited his upbringing as the source of his views about gay marriage and abortion, he has stressed on the campaign trail and while in office that his main priorities are regional fiscal and economic matters.

“Like most people, I imagine my views on abortion and gay marriage grow out of my upbringing,” O’Mara told The Ithaca Times in 2011, “but to be honest that’s not what drives me in politics. I’m far more concerned about fiscal and economic matters.”

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6 – Drug legislation

Recently, the senator has co-sponsored proposed legislation to address a growing issue with drug usage statewide. In the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, the number of 19-to-25 year olds who were treated for drug use increased 35 percent from 2007 to 2012, according the Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services.

The Senate approved a series of related bills June 9, 2014, following the release of a May report by the state Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction. In May, O’Mara, a member of the task force, sponsored a meeting featuring testimonies from law enforcement, addiction counselors, treatment providers, educators and former and recovering addicts.

“The Senate is moving forward because acting against heroin’s resurgence can’t wait,” O’Mara said at the meeting. “We’re hopeful that the Assembly and Governor Cuomo will follow our lead to act against this public health and safety crisis. We’re proposing a meaningful combination of tougher laws and law enforcement, greater public awareness and education, and more effective prevention and treatment strategies.”

The proposed measures would create a social and mass media campaign, make it an A-I felony to unlawfully transport or sell an opioid that causes the death of another and allow prosecution for a new crime when an opioid is transported more than five miles or crosses county lines.

They also revise what defines a major trafficker, increase distribution of Naloxone kits and amend the review process that determines eligibility for insurance coverage of recovery treatment.

The Senate hopes to enact statewide anti-heroin laws before the current legislative session ends this month, June 2014, according to news reports.

In March, O’Mara announced his support for the Compassionate Care Act, which would allow New Yorkers with serious medical conditions — including cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS — access to medical marijuana under the care of a licensed health care provider.

The bill passed the Assembly — for a fifth time — 91-34 on May 27, but has never received a vote on the Senate floor. The Senate Health Committee approved the bill May 20, and if it passes the Finance Committee before the legislative session ends June 19, it could be brought to the floor for a vote.

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7 – O’Mara-Mackesey election

While O’Mara was uncontested in his last election, in 2010 Tompkins County legislator Democrat Pam Mackesey challenged him. She received 40 percent of the overall vote. At the time, the area they were competing for was known as the 53rd District. It has since been redistricted to the 58th.

Job creation was a primary focus for both candidates. O’Mara was a supporter of the state’s Empire Zones program, which granted tax breaks to businesses that created jobs. Mackesey did not oppose tax breaks for companies creating jobs, but was critical of the Empire Zones program.

Before the election, she told the Ithaca Times, “There’s got to be better follow-up and a better program of accountability. We have to make sure that we’re creating long-term sustainable jobs, and not just a bunch of temporary positions.”

In addition to job creation, key topics addressed during the campaign included Medicaid, property tax caps, hydraulic fracturing and gay marriage. O’Mara won every county in the district except Tompkins County, where he only earned about 25 percent of the vote. He succeeded Sen. George Winner Jr., who served in state Legislature for more than 30 years and did not seek reelection.

Following his election to the state Senate in 2010, O’Mara told the Evening Tribune: “We have a very diverse district with Hornell and Steuben County being very conservative, and Tompkins County and Ithaca very much liberal-minded. I look forward to working with everyone on both sides of the aisle, liberal and conservative, to get our state going in the right direction towards economic prosperity.”

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8 – Education & previous work

O’Mara received a bachelor’s degree from The Catholic University of America. He holds a Juris Doctorate from Syracuse University College of Law. O’Mara is a member of the Davidson & O’Mara law firm in Elmira, which was acquired by Hiscock & Barclay LLP, a major Syracuse law firm, in January 2014. O’Mara is a partner at the merged firm.

From 2005 to 2010, O’Mara served three consecutive two-year terms representing the 137th Assembly District, which consists of Chemung and Schuyler counties, and part of Tioga County. He has also served as Chemung County’s District Attorney and County Attorney, and Assistant District Attorney in Chemung and Manhattan counties. During the Assembly’s 2010 session, O’Mara held the third-highest ranking in the Republican conference, Assistant Minority Leader Pro Tempore.

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9 – Public engagement

Each week, O’Mara shares his views on legislative actions, state programs, state policies and local initiatives in a “From the Capitol” column, published on his page of the Senate website and some local news sites.

O’Mara has offices in Albany, Elmira and Bath, New York. His staff can be reached by email omara@nysenate.gov.

Albany Office
Legislative Office Building Room 812
Albany, New York 12247
Phone: 518-455-2091

Elmira (District) Office
222 East Water Street, 3rd Floor, Suite 301
Elmira, New York 14901
Phone: 607-735-9671

Bath (Satellite) Office
105 East Steuben Street
Bath, New York 14901
Phone: 607-776-3201