STAR LAKE — After 24 years in the military and serving as the executive director of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, Robert Smullen, a retired Marine Corps colonel and Fulton County native, has decided the timing is right to seek elected office for the first time.
“I think it’s my way to give back,” he said. “(It is a way to) do the most good for the most people.”
Mr. Smullen announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the New York State Assembly District 118 seat on Wednesday. On Thursday, he made his St. Lawrence County announcement at the American Legion in Star Lake.
The five-county district includes all or portions of Herkimer, Fulton, Oneida, Hamilton and St. Lawrence counties.
The current assemblyman, Marc W. Butler, R-Newport, announced his retirement in August. Mr. Butler has held the seat since 1995.
Mr. Smullen said after retiring from the Marines in 2015 and with Mr. Butler stepping down, the time was right for him to run for the seat.
“It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Mr. Smullen said. He said he had to finish up some things in his position at the Regulating District before taking a leave of absence for the campaign.
In speaking to the Times, Mr. Smullen stressed leadership skills over specific policy issues he wanted to address.
“The biggest thing I want to do is be a leader for the people,” he said, saying he believed in “servant leadership.”
As a Marine officer, Mr. Smullen did three combat tours of Afghanistan and served in the Pentagon as a strategist. In 2003, President George W. Bush appointed him a White House Fellow, and he served in the Office of the Secretary of Energy in the U.S. Department of Energy.
“I have a lot of experience working with people all over the world,” he said. “I’ll be able to work very effectively with the people in the Assembly.”
As for issues, Mr. Smullen said he wants lower taxes, less regulation and more liberty.
“A lot of people are concerned that their Second Amendment rights are being infringed,” he said, although he declined to elaborate further.
He is also concerned with the economy.
“Certainly the economy in upstate New York is in the forefront of my mind,” he said.
Mr. Smullen is the fourth candidate to declare he is running for Mr. Butler’s seat. Patrick Vincent and Philip Lloyd Paige have already declared their candidacy for the Republican nomination, and Keith Rubino is the only Democrat currently running.
“I think it’s going to be tough for any Republican working for Andrew Cuomo to win a Republican primary,” said Mr. Paige when asked for comment on Mr. Smullen’s entry into the race. Other than that, “the more the merrier,” he said.
Mr. Smullen has a bachelor’s degree in history from the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, an M.A. from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and a M.S. in resource management from the Eisenhower School. He serves on the Johnstown Board of Assessment Review and volunteers with the New York Naval Militia.
He is the father of four children with his wife, Megan, and lives in Johnstown.