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State ‘pain’ steers Pinion’s U.S. Senate run

Submitted Photo U.S. Senate candidate Joe Pinion is pictured with his mother, Verona Greenland.

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Joe Pinion recalled a family vacation he took as a child that was all business in Atlantic City, N.J. His mother, Verona Greenland, was an advocate for thousands of residents in the Bronx.

In 1981, she began a community health center in the New York City borough at a small storefront that had been damaged by fire. Greenland’s seed to begin the process? A $25,000 planning grant. “I’ve seen firsthand what a little bit of work can do to improve the lives of so many people,” Pinion said.

During that getaway, Pinion was with his mom in a city — known for its casinos and Boardwalk — participating in a conference that was addressing AIDS, a chronic, life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus during the 1990s. Since those early years, the Morris Heights Health Center his mom founded grew by leaps and bounds.

Before Greenland retired, the facility was serving 75,000 patients with 18 school-based facilities and nine stand-alone sites.

Pinion speaks with love and pride over what has been accomplished by his mother.

“She’s my she-ro,” he said. “She’s my inspiration.”

In a sense, Greenland beat the odds in making health care happen for many of the underserved in the nation’s largest city. Pinion, a Yonkers native, faces a similar uphill battle of his own as he attempts to unseat a powerful U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer who has rarely faced any major challenger during his 24 years in Washington.

Some of the incumbent’s grip, Pinion says, is due to Schumer’s annual tour of the state’s 62 counties. Just last month, the senior senator stopped in Dunkirk to tout $10 million in funding for Chautauqua County projects, including $5.9 million for the city’s harbor.

Appearances, however, are not always bringing results. Pinion called some of Schumer’s showboating disappointing as the senator has failed to recognize the struggles of too many, especially those wallowing in rural upstate.

As downtowns dramatically downsized and a once-powerful agricultural community fell into decline, population numbers throughout the regions north of New York City have languished. “The hard truth is that opportunity no longer lives here because we have passed policies that have made this an environment that is inhospitable for business it is also inhospitable for the family,” the candidate said during a stop last week at The Post-Journal in Jamestown. Pinion also spent time around Chautauqua County and the rest of Western New York during the week and hopes to return in the coming months.

A political news commentator, he also has served as director of youth development at the health center started by his mother and located in the nation’s poorest congressional district in the Bronx. There, he helped integrate health services with community engagement to spearhead a bridge grant program designed to provide gap funding for children within the community to improve college accessibility.

Pinion recognizes the issue of poverty that is prevalent throughout the state and especially in Chautauqua County where 18% of the population is living in less than favorable conditions. “People have been so ingrained with this day-to-day reality they don’t even necessarily think they are living in poverty,” he said. “It’s just normal. … (But) this is not normal. What we’re experiencing in this state is abnormal.”

A recent spike in inflation, especially at the grocery stores and at the pump, has made the problem worse. “People are working harder and harder and they’re getting less and less of what they deserve,” he said. “The cost of chicken wings is being (listed) now as daily market price at the diner … because the diner can’t afford to put a price on the menu. They’ll lose their shirt. That is a very real symptom of the deep pain that people are experiencing.”

Calling the Empire State “program rich and results poor,” Pinion criticizes low performing schools where 60% of the students are unable to read or do math at proficient levels. In the meantime, however, there is a lack of accountability that comes from residents who vote on school budgets or governments that help fund multi-million dollar budgets.

Unsurprisingly, Pinion is critical of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and current Gov. Kathy Hochul for their handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Besides the inaccurate numbers tied to nursing home deaths, Pinion was personally affected by the limitations the state Democrats placed on care facilities to keep family members from being able to visit loved ones in person.

His grandmother Ivy Coombs, who helped raise him, died alone at 100 in a nursing home after contracting COVID. “That is a pain that will never go away,” he said, pinning some of the blame on Schumer for staying silent and putting politics first while loved ones suffered.

That, Pinion says, is an unfortunate but consistent trend of the current senator’s era. “It’s time for New York to stop getting the short end of the stick,” he said. “We have to start that process by getting rid of a politician who thinks that he works for everybody else first and America … and New York second.”

John D’Agostino is editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 716-366-3000, ext. 253.

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