First NY-22 Debate Not A Healthy One By Luke Perry
Debates are moments where campaign plans and strategic moves collide unfiltered in real time, a rarity on the modern campaign trail.
It’s not hyperbolic to suggest the country is watching our Congressional district this fall. Election analysts have consistently viewed NY-22 among the most competitive races nationally, and one with no clear favorite.
This spotlight illuminates not only who wins and who loses, but how. The first public forum with both candidates, which I attended on behalf of Stateline New York, echoed cable news and Congressional campaign committee talking points, while failing to work from a shared understanding of truth.
This was not necessarily surprising, given the political climate and previous 16 months on the campaign trail, but no less painful, particularly in front of over 80 high school students experiencing their first Congressional forum. A forum that included conspiracy theories, personal attacks, and each candidate accusing the other side of lying.
The candidates did articulate why they were drawn to public service and identified their governing priorities. Claudia Tenney first ran for office “because I wanted to help the small business community” and seeks to reduce government and cut taxes to help businesses thrive.
Anthony Brindisi discussed people he has visited with throughout the district and their concerns about paying bills and having health insurance. “These are the people I want to fight for in Washington,” said Brindisi, who seeks “to bring people together to solve big problems.”
Both candidates were comfortable and commanding in their own way. Tenney fluidly weaved between policy specifics of various issues and condemnation of Democratic leaders, the Resist movement, the news media, and various individuals from Ray Halbritter to George Soros.
Brindisi emphasized a collective to approach to governance, highlighting his work with local Republicans, such as Anthony Picente, Jacqueline Izzo, and Joseph Griffo, whom he referred to as his “biggest partner” in the state legislature. Brindisi pointed to former Congressmen Richard Hanna and Sherry Boehlert as positive examples for how to best represent the district today.
The forum was colored by a clash of ideological values. Tenney believes the positive results and relationships she has forged for NY-22 are contingent on maintaining unified Republican government in DC. Brindisi believes there has been a lack of leadership, concern, and policy-making addressing everyday challenges facing constituents.
The major legislative accomplishments of the past two presidents were reoccurring topics. Tenney heralded the economic benefits of The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and defended her efforts to repeal The Affordable Care Act. Brindisi defended health insurance coverage as a basic need and critiqued the tax cut as overly beneficial to the wealthy, while burdensome to federal debt.
This was a debate, not a healthy debate. The latter is difficult when symptoms of democratic dysfunction (self-aggrandizement, dishonesty, distrust, anger, personal attacks) are traits that correlate with electoral success. At best, the event displayed contrasting leadership styles and governing priorities, which can be a sound foundation in determining who to vote for.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.
Read the NY-22 Minute for timely and comprehensive analysis of the campaign.