All of the officially announced Democrats and one Republican hoping to unseat Republican New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of the 21st district met for a forum on the issues Saturday afternoon.
The Plattsburgh-based community group Change Through Action and SUNY Plattsburgh Institute for Ethics in Public Life co-sponsored the People’s Forum for New York’s 21st Congressional District. Nine Democrats and one Republican attended.
All questions were posed from audience members, who did not identify themselves. Once a question was asked a candidate was chosen at random to answer, but all received an equal number of questions. Other candidates could rebut or comment by using one of four “wild cards” they were each allocated. Those cards were popular during a question on guns. "Students should not have to demand the right to feel safe at school, but that's where we are. What is your stance on how we can end gun violence and help our communities stay safe?”
Republican Russ Finley was chosen to answer. He remembered when he was in school in the 1980’s that students would bring hunting rifles without problems. He held up a smartphone and pointed to it as a symbol of the problem. “It's the desensitizing of the society, the media exploiting and putting people out there and glorifying acts like this. How do we start keeping our communities safe? Well I can tell you right now, just like the shooting that just happened in Florida, had that football coach had a gun, whether you agree with me or not, there would have been a lot less. He was one of the first people shot. He could have stopped it right then and there.”
The Democrats on stage were eager to counter.
Moderator Julia Devine: “We have Ronald.”
Ronald Kim: “The policy that is going on in Washington D.C. is morally bankrupt. Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. We need action on this.”
Patrick Nelson: “You know I'm really tired that every time one of these things happens people try and scapegoat people that have treatment for mental health. If you have a mental health problem you are no like more likely to be violent than anybody else and in fact you are more likely to be a victim of a crime!”
Sara Idleman: “I'm a retired teacher. The last thing we need in schools are guns. What we need to do is expend a lot more money in our schools, hire social workers, psychologists, people who work with those who have the kind of difficulties that lead to this.”
Don Boyajian: “I'm a gun owner. I grew up as a sportsman in upstate New York. But you know what the source of all this is: the N.R.A. We need their influence out of Congress right now.”
Another topic candidates were keen to tackle was addressing the opioid crisis. Oncologist David Mastrianni was the first to answer. “It started because we allowed a pharmaceutical company to basically blitz us. In terms of taking care of the problem we need to have health insurance for everyone. We also need to have a comprehensive approach for how we look at managing this and that includes more money for mental health.”
Tanya Boone: “So this is basically corporate drug dealing.”
Emily Martz: “One of the biggest things that we need to do as a community is to take the stigma off the addiction and we need to put the spotlight squarely on recovery.”
Second-term Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik was invited but did not attend.
Audio of the full forum and interviews with the candidates are at wamc.org