In a spirited, substantive debate held Thursday morning, rivals in the local Congressional race fought to claim the mantle of bipartisanship while deriding their opponent as an extremist removed from the political mainstream of the district they are seeking to support.
Incumbent Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y. 29) said Democratic challenger Nate Shinagawa ’05 M.A. ’09, a Tompkins County Legislator, has a record of pursuing dramatic tax increases and would fuel the worst excesses of federal glut if elected. Shinagawa, meanwhile, repeatedly attempted to tie Reed to the Tea Party — an association Reed never explicitly disavowed.
Hosted on local radio station WHCU870, the wide-ranging debate — the first of several planned between the candidates — revealed deep ideological differences between Reed and Shinagawa on energy policy, healthcare, taxes, education and other issues. At times, however, both appeared to seek to the middle ground, evidently eager to prove their centrist bonafides to the constituents of the newly drawn 23rd Congressional district.
“Every piece of legislation I’ve introduced has had a bipartisan cosponsor,” Reed said, noting that he has joined the bipartisan “go-big coalition” to cut the national deficit. “We'll put our record of last two years to demonstrate our willingness and our commitment to moving forward in a bipartisan way because we do have to come together."
Shinagawa jumped on the claim.
“The fact [is] that you have a voting record of over 90 percent with your party, and everybody knows that this Congress has been one of the most divisive in recent American history,” he said. “So when we hear the Congressman talk about bipartisanship, I think we need to say: ‘What does your voting record say?’ Not just the awards you get from different groups, or the bills that don’t actually end up making it anywhere, but what action have you taken, how does your record show you’re bipartisan?”
Yet Reed, who is running to represent a more conservative district than the one that initially elected him, said that he is no ideologue.
“Just put the record up. You banter around the 90 percent rate [of voting with the Republican party], Nate, and looking in comparison to other members, there are [others who vote] 95 percent or even higher,” with their own party, Reed said. He said that his predecessor, Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y. 29), had a record of voting with the Democratic party 94 percent of the time.
Shinagawa persisted in attempting to link Reed to the Tea Party, noting that Reed had recently attended a Tea Party rally.
“In regards to the Tea Party rallies … those are constituents, those are people of the 23rd Congressional district, those are people who have a voice and the right to be heard,” Reed said. “We’ve sat and met with groups on the other side of the aisle.”
Reed lamented what he called Shinagawa’s “attacks [claiming] that I’m some type of extremist.”
“People know me, know who I am; my [three] older brothers and [eight] sisters will tell you who I am — we’re practical people,” he said. “I think that comes from being in this area all of our lives, living in a house my grandfather built in 1922. That’s the mindset of this area, and it’s what we believe in.”
Reed, meanwhile, attempted to brand Shinagawa as a tax-and-spend liberal, noting his support for Obamacare and other left-wing policies.
“Raising taxes is what my opponent has been championing for quite some time,” Reed said. Shinagawa worked to deflect that line of attack.
“Of the many criticisms my opponent has made about me, one of the things I find most shocking is that he likes to say in town halls that I'm an ‘Ithaca Democrat,’” Shinagawa said, noting that he had worked with, and earned support from, Republicans when passing several budgets for the legislature. “I don't know what that means … I have led the way in terms of getting bipartisan support at the local level.”
Though the debate focused primarily on policy questions, it had moments of levity, too, as the candidates shared a laugh over whether Shinagawa should call Reed “Tom” or “Congressman.” Both candidates also drew from their past to connect political issues to the emotional moments in their lives — particularly when discussing the importance of education.
“My father passed when I was two, and my mom was raising the last six of us all by herself. One thing my mom and dad committed to all of us is that we would have an education,” Reed said. “We have to stress the importance of education.”
Shinagawa also shared a family experience to emphasize the importance of reforming education.
“My family moved here [from California] 10 years ago because I have a little brother named Mitch; he’s a special needs child,” Shinagawa said. “Now, he’s more of an independent kid than we ever thought, and it’s because of the good quality of education [in New York].”
The election will be held Nov. 6.