The candidates in New York’s 19th Congressional District race addressed Ulster County Chamber of Commerce members Thursday morning in Kingston. Republican John Faso and Democrat Zephyr Teachout, virtually tied in the latest poll, took turns answering members’ questions in the race to fill the seat of the retiring Republican Congressman Chris Gibson.
Both candidates for the sprawling 11-county district delivered opening and closing remarks to the sold-out Chamber breakfast crowd of nearly 300. The bulk of the time, however, was dedicated to answering questions from Chamber members. Faso, a Columbia County resident, used a few opportunities to underscore his 33-year residency in the district, repeating a line that has become a campaign adage.
“New York City’s a great place. They already have 13 members of Congress. We don’t need to give them a fourteenth from our District,” Faso says. “And the fact of the matter is I’ll be a homegrown representative of this District. I will be someone who lives and works here and understands these issues because I’ve lived it.”
This time, the fourteenth representative comment received some groans which, as Faso said after the forum, emanated from two tables of Democrats. Teachout, a Fordham University law professor who moved to Dutchess County last year, responded by touting her support from Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, Kingston Mayor Steve Noble and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She then told the audience she had worked with many of them in the fight against fracking in New York. Plus, she said:
“I’ve sat in your kitchens to figure how we can stop high-stakes testing and bring arts and music and sports into our schools and support that in our schools. And I am proud of those connections,” Teachout says. “And when I go to Congress, I’m going to keep raising up your voices and keep doing that kitchen politics, which is where it’s really at.”
Alex Stier owns Home Plate Deli & Caterers in the Town of Ulster, just outside Kingston, and Olive Country Store. Stier says he strongly supported Gibson and takes stock in Gibson’s support of Faso. Stier appreciates Faso’s longtime connection with the district and plan to alleviate what he says is the over- regulation of small business.
“Right now I prefer John Faso. I don’t agree with everything yet, at the same time, he concentrates on small business,” Stier says. “He understands this area, which is very different than New York City, where I’ve lived before also.”
Teachout also told the audience she wants to help small businesses, and in her opening remarks mentioned that she was donning a dress from Kingston-based Karina Dresses. Accord resident Arlene Gould, who is the executive coordinator of the Jewish Federation of Ulster County, is a lifelong Democrat and says she likely will vote for Teachout.
“I think her stance on the environment is really important,” Gould says. “Water is all. If we don’t protect our water, we’ll lose.”
Both candidates say they have the ability to work across the aisle. Here’s Faso.
“It is vitally important that we change the direction of our country and that we have a civil discourse, unlike some of the stuff you see at the national level today, we have a civil discourse on how do we fix these problems,” Faso says. “That’s why I say Chris Gibson is a model for me, that’s why he strongly supports me.”
Teachout’s model goes further back in time.
My gold standard is the great Congressman Maurice Hinchey,” Teachout says. “That, to me, is what I would aim to try to be.”
One question posed whether the candidates would support annual increases in cancer research funding for the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute. To this, Teachout responded she’d lost two friends under the age of 50 to cancer.
“And I will absolutely support research. I think that there’s.. We, as a society, have to support research into these diseases that we can treat,” says Teachout. “We have to support more research into cancer. We have to support more Alzheimer’s research.”
Faso told about losing his brother-in-law to ALS before answering.
“I am extraordinarily sympathetic to the need for us to pursue research and adequate funding to make sure that we’re really attacking this in a meaningful and constructive way,” Faso says. “I think, again, this goes back to my point — we have to grow the economy.”
And both credited Congressman Gibson with advancing Lyme disease research. Debbie Warburton is government relations director of the Hudson Valley chapter of the nonpartisan Alzheimer’s Association.
“When people talk about reining in government spending, just as one example, our government spending for the care for people with Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most significant parts of the federal government,” Warburton says. “So if we could find an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s, if we find a cure for Alzheimer’s, we could dramatically cut Medicare and Medicaid spending. And that’s a message that we gave both candidates here today.”
A Time Warner Cable News/Siena College poll out September 27 shows Faso with a 1-point lead over Teachout, but Teachout was leading in Ulster and Dutchess Counties. Teachout, who authored a book on corruption and ran against Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary, says she has a strategy.
“I believe that we’re going to win this through grassroots up, bottom up, person to person campaigning, talking about the real issues that are affecting people,” says Teachout.
Faso, a former state Assembly minority leader who ran against Democrat Eliot Spitzer for governor in 2006, is running on a platform centered on reform to help small businesses, including simplifying the tax code, ending corporate welfare and easing regulatory burdens.
“I’ve thought from the get-go this is going to be a very close, competitive race. That’s how it’s viewed around the country,” says Faso. “And I’m doing my best to win this race and to talk about local issues.”
One of only a few true swing districts nationally, the 19th district race has garnered national attention.
Audio of the entire "Meet the Candidates" event is below.