NY Assembly District 103 Election Race Heats Up

Courtesy of New York State Archives

The 2024 race for New York State Assembly District 103, which encompasses much of Ulster and Dutchess counties, has started to heat up, as Gabi Madden is set to challenge incumbent Sarahana Shrestha in the June 25 Democratic primary.

Gabi Madden is a lifelong resident of Ulster County and Democrat from Bloomington who launched her campaign in February. She was the former Deputy Chief of Staff for State Senator James Skoufis, after working with Assemblymember Kevin Cahill for three years. Her campaign is focused on stable and safe housing, leading in the transition to renewable energy and strengthening community services.

Sarahana Shrestha beat Cahill in the 2022 primaries before coasting to a victory in that year’s election. Cahill had previously served 13 terms in the 103rd Assembly district. Shrestha was born in Nepal and became an American citizen in 2019. She has become well known as a climate activist who was instrumental in passing The Build Public Renewables Act last year. She has focused on climate, universal healthcare, affordability and funding public institutions, including the SUNY system.

Madden has come under fire recently for accepting donations from pro-landlord groups, which have opposed Kingston’s Emergency Tenants Protection Act. Her campaign has been statedly open to accepting corporate donations, such as these. Data from the New York State Board of Elections (NYSBOE) show multiple thousand-dollar donations to Madden’s campaign.

At a town-hall meeting on March 22, Madden accused Shrestha of accepting corporate donations funneled through the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and For the Many. However, recent data from NYSBOE shows she has largely received small donations up to $250. According to her campaign’s website, she refuses donations from “CEO’s, corporations, corporate lobbyists, fossil fuel polluters, real estate developers and school and healthcare privatizers.”

Both campaigns are benefitting from the state’s Public Campaign Finance Matching Program, which is launching this election cycle and provides matching funds for donations between $5 and $250 in campaigns for statewide and state legislative offices. For state legislative offices, the matching funds formula multiplies donations by 12 for the first $50, by nine for the next $100 and by eight for the next $100 of each contribution. This means a minimum donation of $5 will receive $60 and a maximum donation of $250 will receive $2,300. Madden and Shrestha can only benefit from this off donations within District 103.

In February, the Ulster County Democratic Committee voted 19,624-8,185 to endorse Shrestha. The vote faced contention initially as Daniel Scherrer of Rosendale suggested the county party remain neutral due to divisions within the party.

Super Public Affairs Committees (PACs) have also entered the picture with Madden gaining the support of Solidarity, a pro-Israel committee and Shrestha gaining the support of Abundant New York, a pro-housing advocacy group. Solidarity is a new group seeking to boost pro-Israel Democrats in New York. It is backing challengers to progressive incumbents and candidates throughout the state. Abundant New York is a new group which has backed two other candidates to address the state’s housing shortage.

The winner of the Democratic primary will go on to face the Republican nominee this November. Ulster County Republicans have endorsed Conservative Party Chairman and former Ulster County Legislator Jack Hayes for District 103. Hayes had previously lost to Cahill in 2016 in the Assembly race and to Pat Ryan in 2019 in the Congressional race.

The Democratic primary will begin with early voting from June 15 to June 23.