Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photography Editor

Democratic Congressional Candidate debate at McGraw Hall on March 7, 2018.

March 8, 2018

6 Democratic Congressional Candidates Join Panel to Convey Policy Positions, Criticize Incumbent

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Six candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge incumbent Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) in New York’s 23rd congressional district engaged in cordial debate in a panel organized by Cornell Democrats.

Natalie Brown ’18, Cornell Democrats president, said that the event was intended to “provide a platform for people to see what [candidates] are up to … and to give students a real voice to see what someone who will be representing them in the future will offer for them.”

According to Luciano Hamel, roughly 100 community members, including students and staff, attended the panel to watch candidates Linda Andrei, Max Della Pia, Rick Gallant, Tracy Mitrano J.D. ’95, Ian Golden and Eddie Sundquist debate.

Community member Ingrid Sydenstricker did not come to support any candidate specifically, but because she was “interested in seeing who has the greatest chance at beating Tom Reed.”

“Dethroning” Reed was a common theme throughout, as the event began with Emma Runge ’20, Cornell Democrats political director, saying that the night was “one of our first events in our efforts to vote Tom Reed out of office.”

Candidates disparaged the incumbent congressman throughout the night. Sundquist, a former teacher, called Reed “the Washington insider,” while Gallant, also a former teacher, said he doubted Reed had talked to “constituents to actually get to know them.”

Last March, Tom Reed spoke to community members at the Southside Community Center in Ithaca and was greeted by protest, The Sun previously reported.

Criticism extended to the President Donald Trump’s administration, as well. After cataloguing his history of public service, Della Pia concluded his opening statement by saying that “certainly, qualifications alone do not necessarily dictate who gets elected, otherwise we wouldn’t have the president we have,” provoking laughter from the audience.

After opening remarks, several previously-selected questions were posed to the panel, asking about topics ranging from state relationships with Cayuga Indians to gun control. Each candidate was allotted a specific amount of time per question.

Mitrano entered the event with the highest poll ranking according to the Tompkins County Democratic Committee online straw poll, followed by Della Pia and Golden, respectively.

After the event, Mitrano attributed her success to a combination of personality and policy and compared herself to the current and previous U.S. presidents.

“Obama promised people hope, and then he got confronted with that terrible economic situation, and he wasn’t able to deliver on it, [though] he did his best,” Mitrano said. “Trump came in and he preyed on the resentment of the people who felt so disappointed. I’m not interested in encouraging people’s resentment … I’m offering opportunity.”

When asked about her appeal to university students specifically, Mitrano discussed the increasing burden of college debt. “This country doesn’t seem to understand that the cost of college education is a policy issue — not an individual one … I’ve been talking about zero percent [student] loans since before some of these candidates were born,” Mitrano said.

As candidates and their staffers mingled with students after the event in the Ivy Room, Andrei discussed health care policy, while Sundquist discussed his opinion on Ithaca roads. Mitrano, while discussing her views on bipartisanship in Washington, said, “I just got a donation of $500 from a Republican yesterday — and that isn’t my first.”

The Democratic primary will be held on June 26. As a closed primary, only registered Democrats will be able to vote to nominate a candidate, who will go on to challenge Reed in the general election in November. According to Runge, the candidates have said that they will support the nominee, whomever that may be.

The Cornell Democrats will likely endorse a candidate closer to June, according to Runge. Although she couldn’t specifically identify a candidate yet, she said the event helped, and that they would make the decision after “more research and getting to know the candidates better.”