In a virtual debate Monday, the three candidates in New York’s 18th Congressional district agreed on little. Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, Republican Chele Farley and Serve America Movement candidate Scott Smith answered questions ranging from mask mandates to justice in policing to money in politics.
The debate was sponsored by News 12 and USA Today Network New York. Congressman Maloney is seeking a fifth term in the district that includes all of Orange and Putnam Counties, and parts of Dutchess and Westchester Counties. One question was about whether the candidates support legislation to compel governors to issue mask mandates and how they would encourage mask wearing. Maloney says masks are the number-one tool at the moment.
“It’s a shame we’d have to mandate. You’d think all of us as Americans would want to do our part to protect our families, our neighbors. And I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get the science and the evidence up front, driving our response to this pandemic,” Maloney says. “That’s why I’ve led the charge for a national testing strategy .We should be doing 4 million tests a day, not the 500,000 we’re doing now. The Trump Administration sadly has never taken the pandemic seriously.”
Farley, a Tuxedo resident who ran against Democratic U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in 2018, has a different answer.
“I would not mandate federal, have a federal mandate for masks, but I would ask the congressman why he’s not back in D.C. right now actually getting additional funding for testing,” Farley says. “Operations Warp Speed was fantastic, really moving forward to get us a safe and effective vaccine, but we also need to make sure it is available toll Americans, next quarter, and we’ll need additional funding for that.”
“I’m working very hard to get an additional bipartisan package,” Maloney says. “As recently as today, I was on the phone with the committee chairman and the speaker talking about just that.”
The House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act in May, which contains billions of dollars in state and local government aid. Since, the Senate has returned with legislation containing far less and there is still no agreement on a new package. Maloney and Farley went back and forth on the need for additional aid. Maloney, of Cold Spring, pointed out the work he did in helping to secure coronavirus relief funding signed into law earlier this year. Smith is a lifelong Orange County resident who has run for the seat before.
“Most people recognize the common-sense nature of it. Most people are interested in protecting their health and the health of others, but when you have people in government at every level who contradict their own policies, who demonstrate hypocrisy and inconsistency in the way they apply their politics, you get pushback from the public,” Smith says. “And so you have communities where, when they don’t suffer consequences for ignoring health directives, continue to ignore health directives.”
Another question focused on discriminatory policing and a proposed Justice in Policing Act to increase accountability for law enforcement misconduct. Farley talks about a different bill.
“And Senator Tim Scott has put forward a bill that I would support and I would vote for that includes a ban on chokeholds for federal officers. It is more funding for training and body cameras, and collecting data on the use of force by police,” says Farley. “But what I don’t support is the Defund the Police movement, which backs my opponent Sean Patrick Maloney.”
She touted support from a number of law enforcement groups and criticized Maloney’s support of the elimination of cash bail.
“I do not support defunding the police. My opponent has this little political game she plays where she says people who support me support defunding the police, but I don’t,” Maloney says. “I support our police, good community policing, but I also support justice and anti-racist initiatives, like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which she opposes.”
“The bill she supports would be window dressing,” Maloney says. It would not be what she says and it would not ban chokeholds, despite what she says.”
News 12 Moderator Scott McGee: “Ok, thank you very much for that Chele Farley, you have a 30-second rebuttal.
“Well, congressman, I have been at many Back the Blue rallies, where have you been? I haven’t seen you at all in any of them,” Farley says. “And do you have any police endorsements?”
“I can help you out there Ms. Farley,” Maloney says. “I am, in fact, endorsed by two police groups, the statewide PBA and the investigators, so you should probably get your facts straight.”
Smith, a middle-school science teacher, did not comment on any specific legislation, saying he would need time to read through the bills.
“We currently do not all agree on what the term justice means,” Smith says. “We are told very different stories on this topic. People have very different definitions that politicians have created in order to advance their own ends.”
He says until there is unity around the principle of justice, there will not be common ground. The candidates talked about the 2017 tax bill, whether to expand the Supreme Court and answered the following question.
“In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court likened campaign donations to speech, meaning they now have many of the protections provided by the First Amendment,” McGee says. “Do you agree with that decision? If so, why? If not, what would you do to reduce the influence of money in campaigns?”
Smith answered first.
“Money in politics is a disaster. For example, look at this very race. In 2014, when I first ran, I literally had a reporter tell me that, even though I was on the ballot, he wasn’t reporting on me because I didn’t have $1 million in the bank. What does that say about this system?” Smith says. “It is as corrupt as can be in terms of money. It’s about ideas and policies, not dollars, if we want it to be a system that functions properly.”
“We do not need tax dollars to fund campaigns. We need to eliminate the amount of time that politicians can spend our hard-earned dollars, and the way we do that is with term limits. It greatly reduces the power of incumbency and tax funding,” Farley says. “I’ve raised over $1 million in over 6,000 individual donations from 3,500 donors. My average donation is $163; 92 percent of my donations are under $200. That is the way that we need to continue funding campaigns.”
She did not specify how many terms. Again, Maloney:
“We need to overturn Citizens United. That decision by the conservative Supreme Court opened the floodgates for money in politics, dark groups, unreported money, and it is killing our politics. We are awash in money. And there are better ways to do it,” Maloney says. “If you look at H.R. 1, the plan we passed in the House, it is a blueprint for cleaning up our campaigns. First of all, it would end this partisan gerrymandering and it would get at this dark money in politics. And it would small donor system that would be a huge improvement.”
Debate audio is courtesy of News 12.