Congressional Corner With Antonio Delgado | WAMC

Congressional Corner With Antonio Delgado

Oct 8, 2020

States and localities are waiting to hear about federal aid.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Democratic Representative Antonio Delgado of New York’s 19th district speaks with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

This interview was recorded October 1.

Alan Chartock: Here we are in the Congressional Corner with Democratic Representative Antonio Delgado of New York's 19th District. He's been in office since January 2019. And as we speak, there's some appears to be some momentum between Speaker Pelosi and Mnuchin on a new COVID release package. What would you like to see?

Representative Antonio Delgado: Well, that's good news. I do hope that we can find an agreement here sooner than later, it's been far too long since we've been able to come together and get something done. The HEROES Act was passed about four months ago now and people have been struggling, whether it's unemployment benefits, whether it's the direct payments, which I'm sure for many have run their course. And of course, as I emphasized time and time again, the state and local funding piece is of utmost importance. For our municipalities, for our state, for our towns, our hamlets our villages, our frontline workers, our teachers, our law enforcement, our firefighters, the fact of the matter is, a lot of these funding resources go to the heart of how we provide meaningful social services, and we're talking about big cuts that are looming large for our schools, and that just cannot be accepted. So the state and local funding piece for me has always been one of the big priorities. In fact, the HEROES Act includes a bipartisan bill introduced that would ensure that every community, irrespective of size, would get some federal relief to offset the loss of tax revenue, by virtue of the lockdown mechanisms brought about by COVID-19. So hopefully, we can get something done. More money for testing, obviously, will be important, PPE, more money for our small businesses. Our family farms are going to be very much in need as well as we come down into the colder months here. So a lot of needs, and it's important that we get something done here in Washington.

Now Congressman, obviously, you Governor Cuomo feels passionately about this question of relief for state and local government. Have you talked to him about it?

I have not.

But you know, right, that this is really high on his list of priorities. And he's been uncompromising about it.

I'll tell you who I’ve talked to. I've talked to the people on the ground in my district. I've talked to teachers, I've talked to hospital administrators, I've talked to nurses and physicians, I've talked to firefighters, law enforcement. I've talked to the people who are providing meaningful services day in and day out who are feeling the anxieties around these looming cuts, particularly in the educational space. And I think that is where I've really felt the concern has been most acute. I think the teachers are taking on a heavy, heavy burden. You know, when you're talking about balancing in-class learning, but also remote learning, and yet the broadband issues that New York 19 has, which don't make it any easier. That's a challenge. It's a real challenge and the fact that our young people are the ones who are going to be impacted here makes it all the more tragic. So for me, the state and local funding piece is absolutely critical to both help us manage to this health crisis, and do right by our young people. We're talking about the state facing $30 billion dollar deficit over the next couple of years. That's an issue. And we have to make sure that we account for that shortfall, particularly when we know it's going to have a profound, profound effect on the type of education that our young people are able to receive in these difficult times.

So let's talk a little bit about what everybody wants to know about. Did you watch the debate?

Yes.

What do you think?

Well, I mean, I walked away from the debate feeling a little bit disheartened, you know that we are in a position now where if you're a parent, and you're trying to help your child, you know, understand how democracy works, and how, you know, two people who may disagree with each other can engage on an issue, and go back and forth with different points of views respectfully and civilly, and that's what makes democracy, that's what makes this country so special is our commitment to doing that, the oldest democracy in the world. Nothing about that shined through in the debate. And so for me to know that we are so far removed from being the standard bearer when it comes to how a democracy ought to comport itself. You know, Alan, there are democratic norms, right. None of this is written in law, right. You can't find these norms in the constitution. But they matter. Restraint matters, mutual toleration where just because you have a different party affiliation, you’re still a fellow American, you're not my enemy. Right. And so there's a way in which this has devolved in our in our norms. Integrity, being responsible, owning responsibility for your actions, being honest, right? These are things that, again, you can't read them into the Constitution. They're not there, but they're assumed, if you're going to actually engage in this type of government, you need people who are committed to doing these things, who have these values. And so that's what I thought about watching the debate. I just thought about where are we right now? Why is it that I'm sitting here and I don't quite know what I'm looking at. I don't know how this squares with what I have historically, come to see, when I watch a debate.

All very good, or very good in critical points. Congressman Delgado, but I have a question for you. You did not seem to, in that discussion, assess blame. For many of us who have been reading that they talked over each other, we were a little dissatisfied, because we thought Trump was the great interrupter. Was that your view too or did you think there was blame to be assigned to both sides?

Listen, the problem is, there's no doubt the president interrupted far more frequently than the Vice President, former Vice President Biden, there's no doubt about that. And there was a certain style in terms of the nature of the attacks, and how personal they got, which I found unbecoming. I also felt that the moderator didn't do enough, in this instance, to figure out how to gain control of the situation. There’s a deterioration that is happening. And there's a way in which we have to be able to call it for what it is, and act accordingly, and make sure that we're not going to legitimize the de-legitimization of our democratic norms.

How would you fix it?

Well, I think the best way to fix it first and foremost, is to make sure that we hold our elected officials accountable, right? And that means actually voting. And that means making it easier for people to vote, Right? That is the crux of the situation is, how are we living up to being the standard bearer of democracy? You know, we can't call ourselves a standard bearer, if we're making it more and more and more difficult for people to vote in this country. That's antithetical to what the mission the stated mission is. So that's one piece of it. The other piece of it is money in politics. When you have so much money in our political system, and you have all this inequality in our system, then only a select few actually are able to dictate how these conversations, in fact, get framed, how they get conducted, and I think that's a challenge as well. And lastly, how we draw our congressional districts is problematic. When they get gerrymandered, and you end up having these super partisan seats, either, you know, intensely red or intensely blue. And they incentivize going to the extremes, as opposed to finding the common ground. There are a lot of other things I could point to you as well. I think the fragmented way we receive our news information. I think social media has created echo chambers, which makes it very difficult for people to get objective news sources, which creates common ground for us to be able to work together and build solutions. So these are a lot of challenges in front of us, but leadership matters. At the end of the day. Leadership matters. Having people of good human character matters. People who are committed to good government matters. And so identifying those people, rattling around those people, putting them in office so that they can clean up what's going on here that is so dysfunctional with our system is of utmost importance.

We've been talking with Democratic Representative Antonio Delgado of New York's 19th beautiful district, worked there for years myself, in office since January 2019. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. It's always wonderful to talk to you and we're gonna come back and we'll ask you some more questions for the next time.

My pleasure.