Incumbent Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) began Tuesday’s congressional debate by holding up a brick — the one that was left on his doorstep last week as a threat.
Following months of quarreling over the logistics, congressional candidates for the 23rd district went head-to-head, trading punches on their COVID-19 responses, police reform and early voting.
“Just last Friday, a brick like this, with the name of my daughter, and a dead rat with a noose was left on my front step for my wife to find,” Reed said. “To the coward who did that to my family, I will not be intimidated — we will not be intimidated. I am a proud American, a proud Republican and my hand is open to anyone to work together.”
In her opening statement, Democratic candidate Tracy Mitrano J.D. ’95 referenced her history, both educational and occupational, within the district and in upstate New York as well as her desire to properly represent the district’s concerns in Congress.
Tom Reed had beaten Tracy Mitrano by an 8.4 percent margin in 2018, making this 2020 race a rematch for the congressional seat.
This year, a top issue for voters is public health and safety, especially regarding the ongoing pandemic. The second relief bill — the Heroes Act — has been stalled in Congress for weeks largely because of partisan bickering.
Mitrano said, unlike her opponent Reed, she would have voted for the Heroes Act and that she has personally seen the devastation the pandemic has brought to an already struggling Elmira. She claimed that Reed wants recognition for fulfilling his basic responsibilities as an elected official.
“What the people of this district want is someone to go to Washington and pass legislation to help the people of this district, not just your basic job at home to get PPE or some money for the hospitals,” Mitrano said.
Reed said he did not vote for the Heroes Act because of the inclusion of, in his view, an unrelated policy — reducing state and local taxes. He also cited his role in the Problem Solvers Caucus, which secured votes for the March to Common Ground proposal, a $1.88 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
Mitrano retorted that the bill was not just the caucus’s handiwork, but rather the work of several other representatives.
“The notion that the caucus is the impetus behind the work that Mnuchin, Pelosi and several others is a fantasy,” Mitrano said. “The Problem Solvers Caucus has not gotten one serious piece of legislation through Congress.”
The debate eventually reached the hot topic of police reform and funding.
While Mitrano is against defunding police departments, she argued that it is “very possible” to redirect those funds within the department to bolster other social services.
“The only thing that I can understand from [Reed’s claims about Tracy’s stances], having been corrupted by being in Washington for too long, he gets a playbook and follows,” Mitrano said. “All over the country it is the same playbook about the far left, socialized medicine and defunding the police.”
Reed referenced posts on Mitrano’s Facebook page where she showed support for laws like the Justice in Policing Act, which would defund police and also allow police officers to be sued for their actions while on the job. He cited these posts as evidence that Mitrano, as he claims, wants the police to have less power and influence over communities. Reed emphasized that he is a staunch supporter of law enforcement and is not looking to reform the police.
The candidates also were asked to voice their stances on the lack of strong congressional control over the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention centers.
Mitrano argued that Congress should have more control on the issue of detention centers. She said that in 2013, Reed could have — but chose not to — voice more support for a 2013 bipartisan attempt at immigration reform that would have provided a path to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants. Reed said he believed the bipartisan bill wouldn’t have passed in Congress.
“I know the politics behind that,” Reed said. “They did not want to solve this problem because they wanted to continue to keep it in dispute so that it would drive the political division of America.”
One of the issues the candidates agreed on was the current handling of early voting by mail. Reed said he disagrees with President Donald Trump on the viability of mail-in voting. Mitrano echoed Reed’s sentiment, stating her clear trust in all the county commissioners of New York.
Mitrano closed the debate by telling viewers she favors bipartisan discussion, reiterating her desire to get to Congress to work proactively for the district.
“I understand federal issues. I’ve either been teaching them or working through them for 40 years of my life now,” Mitrano said. “I want to get into Congress, and get results for the people of this district.”
Reed circled back to the brick incident and what he saw as Mitrano’s lack of sympathy. The incumbent highlighted his campaign’s stance against immense polarization within the district, emphasizing the need for unity and faith in American people and businesses to handle the pandemic.
“When we get through COVID-19 with the ultimate solution of a vaccine, we will ignite the power of America, which isn’t in our government; it is in you, in the people,” Reed said. “I will make sure that you will keep your hard earned dollars, and you use your innovation and entrepreneurship and American spirit to lead the world for a better place.”