When Congressional candidate Nate Shinagawa ’05 M.A. ’09 was slammed at a recent debate for missing votes in the Tompkins County Legislature, he was ready with a response. He has only been absent, Shinagawa told the crowd in Elmira, because he was busy running for Congress.
“I’ve missed votes, and I’m sorry about that,” Shinagawa said. “But I’ve missed those votes to campaign across this district and talk to voters … I’ve been campaigning for this seat.”
But there is more to the accusation leveled by Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Shinagawa’s opponent, than can be explained by his involvement in the fiercely contested race for New York’s 23rd Congressional seat. Shinagawa’s habit of missing legislative meetings appears to predate this year’s campaign, according to a survey of attendance records conducted by The Sun.
Take 2010. Of the Tompkins County Legislature’s 25 meetings held that year, Shinagawa only sat through the entirety of about 13 since he did not show up to two, arrived late to at least seven and was excused early from three.
By comparison, every one of the other 14 legislators attended at least 19 of the 25 meetings in full. Only a few completely missed as many meetings as Shinagawa did, and the vast majority were late to one or two meetings at most.
Shinagawa’s attendance record was better in 2011, but still worse than those of the vast majority of legislators. Of the 27 meetings in 2011, Shinagawa did not attend three and was late to or excused early from at least six. Only two of the 15 other legislators had records that could be considered as incomplete as Shinagawa’s.
In the years immediately following his election to the legislature in 2005, Shinagawa’s attendance record was better. He almost never missed a meeting in 2007, for instance.
Still, even those who like Shinagawa, such as Tompkins County Legislator Frank Proto (R-District 7), said his absences over the last few years have proved frustrating.
“Prior to this year, his attendance was affected by his job; this year, his attendance is affected by his campaign,” Proto said of Shinagawa, who works as an administrator at Robert Packer Hospital. “I find him to be a good, decent young man, but has his attendance affected some things? To be candid with you: Yes.”
Proto chairs the legislature’s committee of health and human services, of which Shinagawa is a member.
“It’s tough when you don’t have an individual attend,” Proto said. “There’s a lot of people who like [Shinagawa’s] youthful perspective ... If he’s not there, you don’t get that perspective.”
At the debate, Shinagawa defended himself, noting that unlike Reed, he does not earn a substantial income from a government salary.
“I can’t work 100 days a year and get paid 175 thousand dollars a year to do that,” Shinagawa said. “I have to work; I’m also running for an office; I’m not independently wealthy.”
Still, Reed persisted in pointing to Shinagawa’s record.
“Nate, I just have a simple question for you. You’re fond of saying past behavior is the best predictor of future action,” Reed said. “I looked at your voting record for the last year: There were 204 votes in the Tompkins County Legislature. You missed 94 of them.”