The candidates challenging Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York’s 21st district participated in a forum last night in Plattsburgh. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley moderated and offers this report.
The Congressional Forum was sponsored by North Country Respect, an acronym that stands for “ready to educate, support and protect equality and civility together.”
Democrats Tedra Cobb, Ronald Kim, Katie Wilson, Tanya Boone, Don Boyajian, Steve Kreig, Patrick Nelson, Emily Martz and Republican Russ Finley were at the Stafford Auditorium on the Clinton Community College Campus for the two-hour forum on regional and national issues. Second-term Congresswoman Stefanik declined invitations to participate. The format mixed rounds of 90-second answers and high-speed rounds with regional and national issues.
A project to create a highway between Champlain and Watertown has been envisioned for decades. The so-called Rooftop Highway has never been built, and Cobb began the conversation over whether the candidates would support completion of the project. “In the current form I would support it.”
Moderator: “Ronald Kim.”
Kim: “I would support it on a couple conditions. If we have a proposal that actually address more comprehensively the transportation needs of the North Country and it’s consistent with the environmental regulations I’d support it.”
In October, President Trump declared the opioid and addiction crisis a public health emergency. The candidates were asked how, if elected, they would help local and regional services struggling to provide treatment options. Katie Wilson led off the answers. “In a 12 county district we have seven detox beds in the entire district. And they are all in St. Lawrence County. There are a couple other programs looking for funding right now. They look good. It looks like they’re going to go through but this is about funds.”
Candidates offered some revealing responses during some of the speed round questions.
Moderator: “Tanya Boone who do you consider to be the current leader of your national party?”
Boone: “Up until three days ago I would’ve said Kristen Gillibrand. And I know that there’s a big controversy right now so she’s taking a lot of heat but I would still say Kirsten Gillibrand.”
Moderator: “Don Boyajian.”
Boyajian: “I don’t think we have one right now. We’ve lost our message. We lost the support of working Americans.”
Moderator: “Steve Krieg.”
Krieg: “Angela Merkel.” (laughter) “I had to go with somebody I could respect.”
Moderator: “Patrick Nelson.”
Nelson: “The leader of the movement for working families that I want to be a part of if it’s not the Democratic Party it’s Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont.”
Moderator: “Tedra Cobb.”
Cobb: “Okay this is the moment of truth. It’s Joe Biden. I have a crush on Joe Biden.” (some audience laughter)
Moderator: “Ronald Kim.”
Kim: “It’s you guys. And that’s what the Republicans fear. It you guys.”
Most panelists supported the idea of the Lake Placid region hosting a third Winter Olympics . Russ Finley was enthusiastic. “30 years, 30 pounds and a full head of hair ago I was on the U.S. Bobsled team so you betcha. Bring it back.”
Panelists were careful in their responses as to whether President Trump should be impeached, with Republican Finley a bit testy that the question came up. “We’re talking about the President of the United States here. The Constitution talks about high crimes and misdemeanors. There’s been nothing done. “
When a follow-up asked whether impeachment for Vice President Pence should also be considered, Finley’s unease extended into the audience. “The emoluments clause, where are you getting that? Two hundred years nobody’s been charged with that and the guy owns a few hotels and he rents rooms to everybody. (audience jeers) Go ahead and laugh. How about Hilary Clinton selling uranium and the hero of the Democrat party Bernie Sanders? How many million did he get his wife for the failed college? Hey you want to attack my president ladies and gentlemen? I’m not going to tolerate it.”
Audience member shouts: “Well too bad.”
The acrimony quickly receded and the forum continued with other topics including what should be done about rail cars being parked on sidings in the Adirondacks. Ronald Kim suggested a preventive measure. “My understanding is that under current law there’s not too much that can be done for this. Even though it’s legal for them to do what they’re doing apparently you can tax them.”
Organizers counted 122 people in attendance. An audience participation response sheet included a straw poll asking people to write down who they think would be the most effective representative for New York’s 21st District. The unscientific results of 100 responses found Patrick Nelson leading with 34, Tedra Cobb and Emily Martz with 14, Katie Wilson receiving 13, 10 people undecided, and Don Boyajian with six. There were five tallies for Tanya Boone, two for Russ Finley, one each for Ronald Kim and Elise Stefanik and no votes for Steve Krieg.
Audio of the complete forum is posted at wamc.org.