By Josh Brokaw
Six Democratic challengers vying to unseat Congressmember Tom Reed in 2018 introduced themselves to Ithacans Tuesday night at an open meeting hosted by the Tompkins County Democratic Committee.
The general tenor of the conversation, with each candidate giving opening and closing statements and fielding questions in between, was genial. There was some disagreement about how the size of the Democratic field could help or hurt candidates, some concerns raised about how to compete with Reed’s $1 million-plus campaign war chest, and much talk about going out and listening to the people whom they hope to represent.
But there’s plenty of time for all the horse race talk about winners and losers of the daily polls later. It’s August 2017, with more than a year to go before the general election. Let us indulge ourselves with learning a bit more about what the 23rd District’s announced Democratic candidates believe to be the important issues of the day, before 30 second television ads and simplified slogans take over the electoral discourse. (Links in the candidates’ names lead to whatever web page seems more active – we’ll leave the biographical introductions to the candidates’ own materials, for now.)
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On the question of war and peace, two candidates spoke to the United States’ military budget and foreign policy.
In his opening remarks, John Hertzler, a Town of Ulysses board member, arrestee at a We Are Seneca Lake protest, and one-time player on Star Trek, said he would “like to get the heck out of the Middle East. I think it’s clear it’s an unwinnable war for the United States … The brave men & women who fight the war is one thing. The idiots who bring us into the war is another thing.”
Max Della Pia, an Air Force veteran and attorney from Owego, said he has a son in the Air Force and wants the U.S. military to never be in a “fair fight” but to have everything they need. That doesn’t mean that Della Pia wants the military to have an “open checkbook.” Della Pia further decried the presidential budget that would cut SNAP benefits (food stamps) though the cost of SNAP is “less than one percent” of the Pentagon’s budget.
On the broad subject of jobs and the economy, there was much talk about broadband access.
Tracy Mitrano, a Tompkins County-based and Penn Yan-registered cybersecurity consultant, was the foremost candidate in talking about internet access. Mitrano said she’d like to “reverse the reverse” of President Obama’s decision to regulate internet access as a utility, a decision that has since been rolled back. Mitrano offered up her expertise in information technology and cybersecurity as an “unique” one for Congress-members, so far as she knew.
Ian Golden, owner of Finger Lakes Running in Ithaca, mentioned the lawsuit against Time Warner Cable for making promises to increase rural broadband access and then not following through as one example of the issues facing Southern Tier businesses in gaining world-class internet access. Golden said his experience as a small business owner is a large reason why he’s running, having seen the obstacles to growing a business in New York State.
Eddie Sundquist, an attorney from Jamestown, said he wanted to make the 23rd District a “21st century hub” for jobs and innovation. In his opening statement, he questioned Reed’s commitment to renewable energy, saying he would believe it when he saw a union shop making wind turbines in the 23rd.
Hertzler, in response to a question of where the candidates fell in terms of the economic debate between Alexander Hamilton (for protecting trade and focusing on manufactured exports) versus David Ricardo’s ideas the U.S. should be exporting resources, said it outrages him “whenever people say those jobs are never coming back.”
“I’m sorry, somebody’s doing them,” Hertzler said. “If we’re going to continue this race to the bottom in terms of a worldwide wage, that’s not the world I would help to create … Information itself is not any more important than building furniture, building shirts.”
Rick Gallant, a career teacher and member of the New York State United Teachers’ (NYSUT) board from Corning, said he was concerned about proposed cuts to education in President Trump’s budget. The reduction from $9.3 billion to $8.3 billion would affect the “high-risk” students that Gallant teaches, he said.
Gallant was also one of several candidates to talk about the opioid crisis.
“There’s got to be a way to get money from big pharmas, the pharmaceutical companies,” Gallant said “… to have non-opioid painkillers and different ways for people from all walks to have pain relief no matter what.”
There’s no money coming to the 23rd District for the opioid crisis, Sundquist said, “but how much did we spend on the Zika virus?”
On the question of health care, more broadly, the candidates took their most pointed shots at Reed.
Mitrano said that Reed “misses the universal health care mark, no matter how much he pivots, dissembles or problem solves it” – referencing Reed’s membership in the bipartisan “Problem Solvers” caucus.
Hertzler connected Reed’s opposition to single-payer health care to the long-standing criticism of a Reed family business in medical debt collection.
All of the candidates had a few choice words for Reed’s record, whether on health care, his legislative record, or his stated environmentalism, with several directly addressing the camera that Reed aide Joe Sempolinski held throughout the evening.
“Tom Reed thinks it’s funny there’s so many people running,” Della Pia said. “I think it’s an indication not everything goes well for him.”
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