The Sun interviewed Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) as well. Read that story here.
Tracy Mitrano J.D. ’95 drives a Jeep Wrangler, owns a gun and has accused her opponent of racism — she’s running for Congress against Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) in a district tinted red.
If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s done this before. This is Mitrano’s second bid for New York’s 23rd Congressional District, after she lost by nine points in 2018. This time, she’s feeling better about her chances.
The Sun sat down with Mitrano at her Ithaca house to catch up on her campaign’s progress amid the pandemic, her positions on the biggest issues facing the district and her confidence heading into the homestretch of a feisty four years.
Mitrano asserts she’s no ‘radical liberal’
Mitrano disputes this label. She distinguishes herself from the more progressive members of her party by pointing to her policy positions on healthcare and gun control.
In the 2020 Democratic Primary, Mitrano said her favorite candidate was Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Mitrano admired her ability to “get things done” and “appeal to people in both parties,” something she hopes to do in the House if elected.
Contrary to the party’s banner-carrying progressives, Mitrano stops short of fully supporting Medicare for All and strict federal gun control legislation.
“I support the ideas behind Medicare for All, but not the plan itself,” she said. She values that Americans have access to affordable and reliable healthcare, but isn’t convinced that Medicare for All is the means by which Congress could achieve that goal.
She pointed to the failed presidential campaigns of Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as a signal that popular support for more progressive policies is not sound among Americans, let alone N.Y.-23 voters.
“I am for the goals of affordability, availability, and efficiency,” Mitrano said.
And on gun ownership restrictions, Mitrano disagrees with the majority opinion of the 2008 landmark Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, which curtailed D.C. gun control legislation on the basis that individuals have a right to own a gun regardless of whether or not they are in a “militia.”
Mitrano, however, believes most hallmark legislation on gun control should be left to the states: “The United States is too big to have particular laws about guns,” she said, adding later in an email that she supports the repeal of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, federal legislation passed in 2005 that shields gunmakers from most civil liability.
The former Cornell professor supports reforms like increasing teachers’ wages and interest-free loans for college students struggling to pay tuition, but won’t go as far as supporting tuition-free college. She identified the central problem as interest rates on loans, and proposes a reduction on those rates to help students avoid debt.
“We also need to address the predatory nature of for-profit higher education,” Mitrano said. “If we do that, and address the interest rates, we can begin to reset the compass for colleges and university costs.”
Mitrano’s own campaign manager has a background in education. Paula Younger recently left her post as Executive Director of Government and Community relations at Ithaca College to help run the show.
Mitrano supports the Justice in Policing Act, which bans chokeholds, requires police misconduct investigations and supports community-based safety programs. She counts herself as a longtime supporter of the BLM movement, referencing a Higher Ed Insider blog post she authored in 2015 on police brutality.
“I was race baited in the 2018 campaign, by Tom Reed as a result of that blog that I wrote in 2015,” Mitrano said. “Because I expressed those concerns, I was set out to be against law enforcement.”
Racial justice is one area where Mitrano said she will act more decisively than Reed.
Mitrano claimed Reed attempts to “pit people who want justice and appropriate law enforcement, working with not against communities, with [people who] support law enforcement,” she said. “To pit those two things against each other. That’s racist.”
The agriculture industry, which employs thousands of people in the district, is another. In her opinion, Reed “has been on the wrong side of farmers every single time.”
“The dairy industry has been vanquished,” Mitrano said. She mentioned the recent uptick in suicides among dairy farmers, one of them she knew through a mutual friend.
After spending time meeting with farming families across the district, Mitrano identified the key problems as a limited migrant workforce, increased trade tariffs, lack of aid amid the coronavirus pandemic and a shrinking market for milk. Mitrano wants to use her power in Congress to address these key problems.
Criss-crossing N.Y.-23 and campaigning during a pandemic
A typical day on the Mitrano campaign includes distributing yard signs and bumper stickers, video calls with constituents to discuss racial justice initiatives, fundraising and planning future in-person events. Outdoor town halls and “Coffee with Tracy” in public parks — with mask requirements and social distancing precautions — are in the planning pipeline.
The majority of Mitrano’s donations are small amounts from individual residents in the district. Her campaign’s goal is to raise $1 million by Election Day, she said.
The pandemic curtailed all in-person interactions — critical to the modern American political campaign. Mitrano said her inability to meet in person with residents of N.Y.-23 was a significant drawback: “I lost four months that I could’ve spent meeting with voters.”
One highlight from the last few months for Mitrano was her small wedding celebration (only close friends and family were invited) with longtime partner Victoria Everett.
On the subject of LGBTQ+ rights, Mitrano emphasized the importance of protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and reflected on Supreme Court decisions prohibiting workplace discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a primary issue [of mine],” Mitrano said. “I’ve always been interested in civil rights… definitely when I went to college, and it’s been about racial issues, women’s issues, what we now call LGBTQ issues. It’s all been a part of that’s what democracy is supposed to be all about.”
After living in Ithaca on-and-off for about 30 years, Mitrano and her partner are selling their house near Ithaca College to live permanently in Penn Yan, New York.
Looking ahead to November, Mitrano’s campaign is encouraging all her supporters to vote “in whatever way is most comfortable.” She is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) to again allow people to vote via absentee ballot without requiring a reason on the application, as was the case in the June Democratic primary.
In a district the size of New Jersey, registered Republicans outnumbered registered Democrats by around 22,000 voters in 2018. Additionally, N.Y.-23 contained 23,678 registered independents. Mitrano’s path to victory depends on high Democratic and independent voter turnout.
Correction, Aug. 8, 3:55 p.m.: This article was updated to add the rationale behind Mitrano’s statement that Reed is a racist. A previous version of this article also stated that Mitrano was not for universal healthcare, a campaign representative reached out to clarify that Mitrano is not for Medicare for All. Additionally, a previous version of this story erroneously stated that the 23rd Congressional District has millions of workers in agriculture, the correct figure is thousands of workers.
Editor’s note: Tracy Mitrano served on The Sun’s senior board until 2013. She has had no involvement since her departure.