Green Party challenger vies for Ortt's seat

Peter Diachun

For the first time in four years, Sen. Rob Ortt will face a challenger in his run for reelection, but his opponent's name won't be listed in the column for Democrats.

Peter Diachun, a retired chemist and political novice, is running on the Green Party line for the senate seat, and is running with a central goal: to pass single-payer health care throughout the state.

Diachun, 75, of Lewiston, said that if elected, he would serve only one term, and joked that he might leave early if he can cast a decisive vote to pass the New York Health Act.

The act would provide universal health care to every New Yorker, without premiums, deductibles or co-pays. The act has been passed by the Democratic-controlled Assembly for the past four years — and has been introduced by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, since 1992 — but has yet to reach the floor of the Senate, where Republicans have a one-vote majority.

Diachun hopes to be the vote that drastically changes how New Yorkers receive and pay for health insurance.

"All the (richer) countries in the world have single-payer systems. They've realized some work better than others for different reasons. I think they've come up with a very fine system" in the New York Health Act, Diachun said.

Diachun said he also strongly supports state government reforms, especially term limits, and is frustrated with career politicians' focus on fundraising and reelection. As a planned one-term state senator, he said he would have no need for campaigning.

"I would spend my time finding the right thing to do about each issue," Diachun said.

Diachun said he also supports continuing a statewide ban on large-scale hydraulic fracturing — a natural gas extraction method more commonly known as "fracking" — and supports legalizing marijuana for recreational use. 

“We've done a lot of damage to our society by criminalizing marijuana for as long as we have," he said.

On other contentious issues, such as the minimum wage increases and the SAFE Act, Diachun demurred, saying that as a Green Party candidate, he is not beholden to either major political party. 

And while the Green Party is typically seen as to-the-left of Democrats, Diachun said he was actually a Republican until joining the Green Party about six years ago.

Diachun left the Republican Party because he felt that the party of "genuine individuality (had been) hijacked" by the movement's current leaders. He switched to the Green Party after realizing its platform closely mirrored his beliefs.

"I probably would have been a Democrat, but I got a little sick of both parties," he said.

Diachun, who worked much of his career at Carborundum and has never held public office, said he was inspired to run after seeing that Ort had no challenger in 2016. Though he acknowledges he faces long odds — Ortt won with nearly two-thirds of the vote against his last opponent, in 2014 — Diachun said he felt someone should challenge the North Tonawanda Republican.