February 5, 2008

Locals Vie For Spot In District

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New York’s 22nd congressional district, consisting of the region of south-central New York stretching from the Hudson River to the Finger Lakes, is considered to be a “safe Democratic” district according to Congressional Quarterly’s political projections. The district, which includes cities such as Ithaca, Binghamton and Poughkeepsie, will re-elect its representatives in Nov. 2008.
Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), congressman from the 22nd district, has served in the House of Representatives for 15 years and spent 18 years in the New York State Assembly. He is running for re-election and is facing a Republican field of candidates who have never served in public office.
His opponents include Bruce Layman, a former teacher and marketing professional who chairs the Star Group, an organization that oversees his business interests; George Phillips, a catholic high school and community college teacher; and David Grate, a high school teacher who has also received the endorsement of New York State’s Constitutional Party.
“With close to 20 years spent in Congress, Hinchey has proven again and again that he’s a strong campaigner who’s done an excellent job representing the interests of his local constituency in Washington,” said Sam Morgante ’09, campaign advisor for the Cornell Democrats.
Morgante spoke of Hinchey’s recent legislative efforts attempting to prevent the Department of Energy from designating New York as a “National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor,” which would permit the DOE to build what Hinchey’s website characterizes as a “200-mile power line through upstate New York.”
“Hinchey is working with Governor Spitzer to try to find a more acceptable solution,” Morgante said.
On national issues, Hinchey is among the more progressive members of the House; in addition to supporting environmental protection legislation and a national health care system, he voted against authorizing President George Bush to take military action against Iraq in 2002.
Layman and Phillips both portray themselves as fiscal conservatives, who favor cutting taxes, decreasing the size of the federal government and providing incentives for private businesses to engage in the area’s economy. According to his website, Grate shares a similar political outlook to Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
Layman said that his private sector roots permit him to seek efficient and effective dilemma resolutions as opposed to what he refers to as a “status quo” political agenda.
“As a 55-year-old business professional, I feel that I am more well-seasoned than the other Republican candidates. I also have excellent ties to the Ithaca community, which has been a model city in this district as far as understanding the dynamics of the business market and reaching out to cooperate with the colleges and University,” Layman said.
He hopes that by improving local business development, more students will choose to settle in the area after completing their education.
“I want to engage young people on these college campuses to become involved and get out and vote. I ask students to ‘do their homework’ on the candidates’ promises and their records. My opponent [Hinchey] has taken over $200,000 worth of trips with his spouse, paid for by private companies. Now that the economy is hurting, he wants to help fix it, but I ask what has he done about it during his 16 years in Congress?” Layman said.
“I doubt that the RNC [Republican National Convention] will contribute much attention or funding to the 22nd [district]. It’s much more likely that Republican Party support will go to the 24th, 25th or 29th, where some interesting races are developing,” said J.P. Blake ’10, liaison for the C.U. Dems to the College Democrats of New York.
Blake also argued that Hinchey’s strong Democratic support base in the 22nd was a sign of political ills.
“If you look at the map, there’s no reason that Ithaca shouldn’t be part of the 24th district, where the race is more contended. But thanks to some Tom DeLay-style gerrymandering, we’re prevented from giving the Democrats a huge boost there,” said Blake.
Morgante said that the districting plan, which he believes is disadvantageous to the Democrats, is the reason that the upcoming New York Senate race is the most important one taking place in the state.
“New York is likely going to lose one seat in the House after the 2010 census, in which case the district lines will have to be redrawn. With the Democrats in control of the state Senate and Spitzer as governor, I think we’d see much fairer districting practices put into place,” Morgante said.
Republicans currently hold a two-seat majority in the state Senate. Democrats are hoping to narrow this margin to one seat in the special election that will be taking place on Feb. 26th in the 48th senate district to fill the vacancy created by State Sen. James Wright’s (R-Watertown) resignation.