By Rich Place
Growing up on a dirt road in Colden, Luke Wochensky knows a thing or two about life in a small town.
The Springville-Griffith Institute graduate has been around the world and back, now living in East Aurora and in early May announced his candidacy for assemblyman of the 147th district.
“I grew up here and I’m very proud of this area,” Wochensky said during a recent interview with the Springville Times. “I’ve lived all over the world and when you come back and see some of the struggles the residents are facing … it makes you want to do something.”
On the steps of the East Aurora Village Hall he announced his campaign and has spent the last few months touring the area, getting to know residents and having conversations about what it’ll take to improve this rural district.
With a degree from Union College in Schenectady, a master’s from the Ohio State University and a law degree from Herzen University in Russia, Wochensky worked as a partner in an international law firm.
“The first opportunity I got to move back, that’s when I moved back,” he said.
During his campaign, including door-to-door stops all throughout the district, Wochensky said his personal background isn’t a part of the conversation as much as whether he’ll be available to listen and whether he’ll be available to have a conversation.
“Most people are just saying ‘thank you for being here,’ ‘thank you for speaking to me’ and we’ll have honest conversations,” Wochensky said. “Some of them are difficult, some of them are easy and, unfortunately, we only have so much time to speak to people. But we have gotten into some deeper conversations.”
He said it’s important for him to articulate his point of view and, even when those who answer the door don’t agree on specific issues, he said he hasn’t found anyone who hasn’t agreed with his campaign’s core message.
“I have actually felt a lot better about the state of our politics since entering the campaign,” said Wochensky, a registered Democrat. “We hear a lot from the fringes — but most people are in the middle, willing to compromise, willing to talk rationally about any political issue.
“While we may not agree on anything, we can have a dialogue about something that actually matters about improving our lives. … I can’t say I’ve had any situation where we’ve gotten into an argument or where someone hasn’t really agreed with the core message that we have. It’s uplifting. It’s motivating.”
From his campaign’s logo — a minimalist design of farm land and small businesses — to what he has spoken about at length during interviews and to residents, Wochensky said the core of his campaign is focused on improving the quality of life in this rural district.
During his recent interview, he stepped outside the Springville Times office on Main Street and illustrated his point. At the time, one person was walking down Main Street during a late morning weekday.
“It’s exactly what we were talking about,” he said. “When I went to high school here, at this time of the day you come down the street and you’d pass by all sorts of people you knew.
“This is the center of our community and I think we need to understand that we need to do something in order to make this vital again,” he added, noting one of the first issues addressed on his campaign material is focused on Main streets in rural communities like Springville. “We need to be concentrating on development right here.”
A product of Colden Elementary School — where friendships blossomed in kindergarten that still continue to this day, he said — Wochensky was quick to note that the values he learned growing up continue to stick with him.
“We all grew up with rural Western New York values,” he said. “What does that mean? We are hardworking, we care for our neighbors, we love the land and natural resources and use them, and everyone here has a passion to fight for justice and for what’s right.”
Wochensky said he believes current representatives “don’t match those values” and that led him to become a potentially new voice for this district.
He jokingly called Springville “the big city” when it was time to come from Colden to the middle and high school but noted there were several opportunities available for students to get involved.
“We had all those opportunities to express ourselves and do what we wanted … and that allowed us to develop as young men and women,” Wochensky said. “I’m concerned that even students now don’t have the same opportunities we did then. I think we are going in the wrong direction.”
So how does Wochensky plan to do it and what makes him believe he’s right for the job? One of the reasons is because of his experience as an anti-corruption lawyer, which involves “being able to win an argument and fight for things you think are not right,” he said.
“I think that with my experience in working in places like Russia have prepared me well to have that fight,” he said.
Wochensky ended his interview by reiterating the core principles of his campaign as he continues to meet with residents across the district until Election Day in November.
“We need to concentrate on our Main Streets, our communities, our land and natural resources and our families and quality of life,” he said. “That’s what’s most important and that’s where we can make the most impact with our representation in Albany.”