As Election Day looms large on the horizon, voters’ attention in New York State has mostly been focused on the high-profile Senate race between Democratic First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.).
Falling slightly lower on the radar screen is the race for the House of Representatives in New York’s 26th District, which includes Ithaca and much of Tompkins County’s westernmost end. The race, between incumbent Democrat Maurice Hinchey and Republican state development official Bob Moppert, is round three in their hard-fought political bout.
In 1992, Hinchey captured his first term in Congress by defeating Moppert with only 50 percent of the vote. Just two years later, Hinchey nearly fell victim to the Republican tidal wave that swept the GOP to majorities in Congress. He beat Moppert by just 1,200 votes, and the outcome was uncertain for nearly two weeks after the election.
Hinchey has improved his electoral performance considerably in the more favorable political climate of the last two elections. In 1998, he garnered his highest vote share when he took more than 60 percent of the vote against Republican apple farmer William “Bud” Walker and prominent Right-to-Life candidate Randall Terry.
But despite Hinchey’s apparent solidification of support in the district, members of both camps say they are taking another Hinchey-Moppert contest very seriously.
Bryan Erwin grad, a spokesperson for Hinchey, said that at this point, “every vote counts.”
Moppert supporters expressed the same sentiment. Amy Gershkoff ’02, head of Leaders for Lazio, a group of Cornell students, said that “the election is going to be sufficiently close.”
Hinchey, a career public servant, “remains firmly entrenched in the Democratic Party’s liberal wing,” according to Congressional Quarterly’s Politics in America publication on the 106th Congress. He has recorded a solid Democratic voting record during his eight years in the House.
The Hinchey campaign is hoping this record will bolster his re-election chances. Dan Ahouse, campaign manager for the Democrat, said, “[Hinchey] has been very in tune to local communities over the last eight years.”
Moppert supporters, on the other hand, rest much of their hopes on what they see as the deficiencies in Hinchey’s record. Members of the Moppert camp denounced Hinchey’s stand on key issues, including taxes, health care, and job creation.
“Hinchey has a record,” Gershkoff said, “and it’s terrible.”
Mike Mara, a spokesperson for Moppert’s campaign, pointed out Hinchey’s “refusal to fix the marriage penalty tax, while voting himself a pay raise.”
Ahouse countered that in the Republican proposal to repeal the marriage penalty tax, “50 percent of the tax cuts would have gone to the wealthiest three percent of the district’s population.” He further argued that “the vast majority” of the 26th District would receive little from the cuts, that they were “geared towards the wealthy.”
The dispute over the marriage penalty indicates the importance of taxes in this race. Hinchey supports “more even-handed” tax breaks that will treat the current surplus with “responsibility,” according to Ahouse.
But Moppert supporters disagree with Hinchey’s proposals for spending the large federal surplus.
“Bob Moppert epitomizes the mentality that this money belongs to the American people,” Gershkoff said.
She added that Hinchey doesn’t understand the struggles of small businesses, contrasting him sharply with Moppert and his lifetime business experience as a moving company owner.
“Bob Moppert understands that we are a county of small businesses, and has worked with businesses all his life,” Gershkoff said.
Yet Ahouse touted Hinchey’s role in bringing federal funds to his district. According to Ahouse, more than $1.2 billion in federal aid has been sent to the 26th District during the past five years of Hinchey’s service.
But Mara said the challenger also has a record of helping out residents of the district. He lauded Moppert’s experience as Gov. George E. Pataki’s regional economic director for New York’s Southern Tier, saying “Bob has created thousands of jobs in this region.”
The Southern Tier does form the heart of the 26th District, which spans from as far east as the Hudson River to the cities of Ithaca and Binghamton in the central part of the state. Two population centers divide the district, with roughly half of the votes in the western Binghamton-Ithaca region, and one-third of the votes in the Hudson Valley. According to Congressional Quarterly, the 26th District’s heritage is Republican, but areas such as Binghamton and Ithaca’s sizeable academic community provide a solid Democratic base.
Both candidates recognize Cornell as an important community within the district.
According to Ahouse, Hinchey’s efforts to bring federal funds for research and development to places like Cornell have improved the district as a whole. “As Cornell benefits, so does Ithaca and the rest of the district,” he said.
Since Cornell is the largest employer in the district, it not only is a major factor in the local economy, but the University also plays a major role in local elections. Erwin, who is working for Hinchey, classified the Cornell community as a “well-informed” population.” But he acknowledged that during a Presidential election year, the national election “takes precedence” over local politics. In addition, New York is home to the nation’s most closely-watched, and one of its most expensive, Senate races, which might further limit the amount of attention that students pay to down-ballot races such as this one.
In numerous conversations with The Sun, students not directly affiliated with a campus political organization expressed little knowledge of the two Congressional candidates.
“I registered to vote in Ithaca so that I could vote for Hillary,” said Beth Knackmuhs ’01. “I don’t know enough about the Congressional race at this point to make a decision.”
Both Hinchey and Moppert are scheduled to face-off in a forum Monday night at 5 p.m. in the Boynton Middle School Theater, which is located at 1601 N. Cayuga St. Prof. Margaret Washington, history, will moderate the debate.
Roll Call, a Washington, D.C., newspaper that covers Capitol Hill, currently ranks the 26th District race as “Likely Democrat,” meaning Hinchey is favored to win a fifth term.
Archived article by Maison Rippeteau