The first debate between the candidates for New York’s 19th Congressional district seat is in the books. Republican John Faso and Democrat Zephyr Teachout faced off today at WAMC’s performing arts studio, the Linda. The debate between two former gubernatorial candidates mostly stuck to the issues.
Right out of the gate, former state Assembly Minority Leader John Faso said Teachout is a carpetbagger, underlining it to reporters gathered afterward. "If you wanna represent people you should become them, you should know something about them. And Miss Teachout, she's a nice person, but she just dropped in here from Brooklyn and registered to vote in January. She's never even voted in a general election in this district. She has no connection to the people or the communities in this district. No civic or charitable or other business connection to this district."
Teachout, who challenged Governor Cuomo in the Democratic primary two years ago, branded Faso "a lobbyist" and vowed to overturn Citizens United and SuperPACs she says are contributing to Faso's campaign. She didn't duck the "carbetbagger" issue: she ran down a laundry list of local appearances and afterward crystallized her intentions going forward: "I'm from a rural area not too far from here. I grew up with chickens and sheep and dairy farmers on both sides, and, when I am in Congress I'm gonna be representing the interests of this rural area that is really struggling economically for middle-class jobs. What I hear everywhere I go in this district, and we have grassroots support everywhere, is what people are looking for is not another career politician. Not another lobbyist. They're looking for someone who is gonna be independent, who is gonna listen, who understands their issues, and who is gonna fight and not listen to party leaders and not listen to big corporations."
During debate, Teachout called the Hoosick Falls PFOA crisis "devastating" and said "there's a lot of finger-pointing but no responsibility being taken." She said polluters must be made to pay pledged to fight in Congress for "real concrete solutions." "That means medical monitoring. And when I am in Congress I will be fighting for a fund to pay both for medical monitoring. Ongoing medical monitoring."
Faso called the PFOA crisis a failure at state and federal level, later adding his support for establishing a fund: "I would be supportive of any effort to try to make sure that we are taking care of the people who were harmed by the negligence. But I think the polluters have the first responsibility on that fund before the taxpayers."
Both candidates agreed they support term limits, that five terms (which equates to 10 years) in Congress is enough time to "get things done." Both support their party's presidential nominees. The candidates took time to "clear the air" on selected issues. Faso said he "respects" the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion rights and same-sex marriage; Teachout clarified her positions on Iran and the BDS movement.
Teachout also touted her independent streak: "People are disappointed with both political parties right now, they're pretty angry about what's happening in Washington and what's happening in Albany. They know I've been independent, I've shown that before. They know I'm gonna continue to be independent. And they're not looking for insiders to be representing them. We have opportunities here in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills to actually raise up local leaders are pushing."
As one the nation’s most closely-watched races this year, the battleground district appears in play for both sides as they seek to replace retiring Congressman Chris Gibson, a Republican backing Faso. As Faso said: "I Think it's gonna be a very interesting race right down to the wire."
The candidates will debate again on WMHT Oct. 13 and Time Warner Cable News Oct. 24.