WEST SENECA, N.Y. -- The two challengers for a vacant seat in the state legislature both agree that the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center should stay right where it is, in West Seneca. It's remained an issue for five years.
Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke and school teacher Erik Bohen, a Democrat endorsed by Republicans, are vying for the 142nd Assembly District seat vacated when Mickey Kearns left to become Erie County Clerk.
"Children need a location like this that is peaceful where they can get the help they need. I think merging them in what could potentially be chaotic is wrong," said Burke, D-Buffalo.
"We don't incarcarate children with adults. We don't educate children with adults, and we certainly should not treat children with adults," Bohen said.
The state legislature overwhelmingly agreed. Lawmakers last year unanimously passed a bill to keep the state Office of Mental Health from merging the facility with the renovated Buffalo Psychiatric Center, where adults are currently treated. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, vetoed that bill, meaning time could be running out for the West Seneca building.
Both candidates vow to support the WNY CPC through legislation in Albany, just as Kearns did from that position before them.
"It's about timing the legislation right. Getting the same players who helped get it through the last time on board, and making it clear the assemblyman from this seat is going to keep fighting for it," Burke said.
Bohen has sought advice from Kearns on the issue and how to bring it to the forefront again.
"We have to have a bi-partisan approach to keep that center in West Seneca because it is very important to this district and to the Western New York Community and to the parents of these children to have the right treatment."
Burke and Bohen both say they'll work with Senator Pat Gallivan (R-Elma) and other colleagues, putting politics aside for another bill to save the Children's Psychiatric Center from closing.
The special election for the 142nd Assembly seat is slated for April 24.
In an effort to keep the center open, a group of advocates, staff, former patients and parents is currently suing the governor and the State Mental Health Commissioner Ann M. Sullivan They're awaiting their next date in State Supreme Court.