By Jolene Almendarez for the Ithaca Voice
ITHACA, N.Y. — The five congressional candidates vying for the Democratic nomination next week took a hard stand Thursday night advocating for green collar jobs, healthcare, gun laws, better veteran care, and sustainability. A significant amount of time was also spent talking about one of the people progressives in Ithaca stand against most: Tom Reed.
The primary election is happening Tuesday and the Democrats on the ballot are Ian Golden, Max Della Pia, Linda Andrei, Eddie Sundquist and Tracy Mitrano.
We picked out the most important questions and broke them down in the story below. You can listen to the entire Q&A in the audio link above, which is provided courtesy of WRFI Community Radio.
(Editor's note: In some cases, candidates had similar views on issues. For the sake of brevity, we did not quote every candidate's response to every question, but we were mindful to ensure that all candidates were quoted in an equitable way.)
How would you address the "epidemic" of school shootings?
"I think the number one issue involved in school violence is the fact that we have too many guns in our society, and so we must address that issue first," Mitrano said.
One of the first steps to doing that, she said, is repealing the immunity gun manufacturers have that shields them from civil lawsuits. It's important to have courts determine what "negligence" means and for gun manufacturers to face legal action in every state when it's necessary, she said.
Also focusing on challenging the gun lobby was Della Pia, who said that while he respects people's rights to own guns for hunting and protection, there are gaps in the vetting process for gun owners.
He called for computerized background searches for gun purchases with no exception, like gun shows currently have, and for mandatory training for legal gun owners.
Candidates Andrei, Sundquist, and Golden highlighted the need for more resources at schools to help both children and families.
Andrei said, “I think that we need to make room for children who need to be included. We need mental health, we need to look at families and support families because it's really the basis of where we find our moral compass, and that's in families."
Golden agreed that the emphasis needs to be on families. He said that with the rise in nationalist identities, the "me-first culture," and the tearing apart of families by social issues like drug addiction and overworked parents, kids are not getting the guidance they need to handle tough issues.
Sundquist said, "The reality is ... more than anything is we need those counselors, we need those social workers to identify the reds flags that come out. This is not an issue with a gun manufacturer. This is an issue with our society”’
What are your thoughts on climate sustainability in the district?
Sundquist said there's no reason the 23rd district shouldn't have a green collar economy and be a hub for environmental technology.
He said, “...environmental protections in this country are under attack by an administration and an EPA that has no idea what the heck they're doing, right?”
He said that what should be happening nationally is a focus on sustainability that embraces the job opportunities that sustainable initiatives could create. Sundquist said there's no reason solar panels and the parts for wind turbines shouldn't be built in the district. And with technology focused on sustainability from places like Cornell University, he said the district could be a national leader that teaches communities across the country how to create a green collar workforce.
Golden was also a proponent for the jobs that could be created with sustainability efforts and the move to be less dependent on fossil fuels.
He cited the Lake Tunnel Solar Village project in Geneva as an example of how a community can make an effort to think about growing in another sustainably. The $8.5 million project is for a solar-powered housing development that will have about three dozen units.
Golden called for similar projects and a focus on sustainability to move the "green revolution" in the district forward.
How do you plan to be able to appeal to people in both the western and eastern parts of the district?
Andrei has worked as a doctor in the district for decades and said that's positioned her to hear the plight people face regardless of their political affiliation.
"They want someone who hears their pain and suffering, who acknowledges it, and they can respond," she said.
For instance, she talked about a woman she knows who hunts, grows her own hay, and manages 4o horses — a woman who traditionally votes Republican.
"She calls herself a redneck. I call her the real deal," Andrei said, noting that she was able to reach across the aisle to not only secure the woman's vote but to convince her to publicly advocate for Andrei's run for Congress.
Mitrano said she is from the western part of the district and understands the values people have their, in part, because they are the same kind of values people in the eastern part of the district have.
"They are about fairness, having a good and just chance at life — a fair shake — and I think that's what everyone in this district wants, whether you're from the east or the west," Mitrano said. "Let’s find the common ground and work together. Healthcare, education, infrastructure through conservation — we will attract new investment to this district. That's how we unite the east and the west and the center."
How would you stand up for the needs of the 50,000 veterans in the district?
Della Pia, who spent a career in the Airforce, said his primary focus will be on ensuring that veterans have easy access to healthcare and Veterans Affairs benefits. He said it's the issue that comes up most often when he talks to veterans.
"One guy in Dryden said, 'My brother and I were both snipers in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. My brother ... got pancreatic cancer and, literally, they didn't approve the service connectedness until two weeks after died,'” Della Pia said. "Veterans have given up a lot, they've risked a lot, and they deserve a lot. And I am somebody who can relate to that."
Sundquist also agreed that health care should be a priority for veterans. He said he's talked to people who have to drive hours to get medical treatment that's covered by the VA. He said he would prioritize reinstituting the Veterans Choice Program so people can get healthcare at their local hospitals and will focus on streamlining services for veterans. He also wants to focus on increasing the amount of money veterans are paid.
"That's not how to treat our veterans," he said.
Andrei also agreed that veterans need more access to health care providers and medical facilities.
She said one of her priorities would be to give veterans access to marijuana for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, which she said has been proven to improve the condition.
She would also give veterans "first-choice" for infrastructure jobs and training, possibly in the green collar job industry.
How would you make Reed's constituency think twice about voting for him in November?
Golden said it's important not to promote more divisiveness within the district.
"His constituency is my constituency, so I think that that's something that's very critical for us to understand in this moment," he said. "I am here to represent everybody..."
For Golden, his goal is to be a relatable candidate who can talk to people about the issues impacting their daily lives. While talking to Republicans, even people who know Reed or grew up with him, Golden said it's evident that people see what hasn't been done in the district.
"They also say that there's been little that's been done for our district and it's time for change," Golden said.
Mitrano said Reed's own record works against him in the election.
"He has turned his back on us, and it's clear from every vote he takes," she said. "He's already running against himself in this district.”
She said that when Reed's record is recounted for his constituents, they take notice. Mitrano said she's talked to people who voted for Trump and Reed but are still concerned with how the district's needs are being handled.
They're more interested, she said, in hearing from a candidate with a clear message about what can be done for the 23rd district in Congress.
How familiar are you with the Americans with Disabilities Act and how will you advocate for it in your campaign?
Andrei said her advocacy for the ADA is based on the idea that accessibility is for everyone.
She pointed to the divets in sidewalks as a prime example of an ADA requirement that helps many people. For instance, it makes sidewalks accessible to people in wheelchairs, people pushing strollers, elderly people using walkers, and people with rolling suitcases.
"When one of us is helped, when the least-able is helped, when the most vulnerable is helped, we are all helped,” Andrei said.
Della Pia also commended what the ADA has done for Americans.
"The Americans with Disabilities Act has provided a life for people who felt like all they could do was stay home," he said, adding that people should have access to buildings and jobs that accommodate their needs.
"We've all heard the thing — justice delayed is justice denied," he said. "I support people so that we, as a country, can move forward and embrace those people and allow them to live and grow and take up the potential that they're capable of. And I'll back them 100 percent."
What do you think about the U.S. embassy being moved from Israel to Jerusalem?
Golden opposes the movement of the embassy and says it reflects the special interests of people within the Trump administration and government.
"It takes a generations old, very divided, real issue of the treatment of the Palestinians and recognition of them as a state, the mass murder and oppression that’s going on along at border, and it inflames it," he said.
Mitrano agreed with other candidates that the move was political and resulted in a dangerous situation for people.
"I believe it is stirring the pot in absolutely the wrong direction. We need to bring peace to the Middle East," she said. "We cannot continue in a policy of 'divide and conquer. We must start a policy of uniting with heart.”’
She said it's essential to have a completely different approach to foreign relations both within the district and the presidential level.
Should the U.S. - Mexico border be opened?
“I’m disgusted. I’m embarrassed to be an American when the beacon on the hill is ... a country that would tear a child from their mother's arms," Della Pia said, adding that the default policy at the border should always be to keep families together.
He said immigration reform is needed in this country as the current administration spends money on border security as opposed to things American sorely need, like infrastructure that could create jobs.
For instance, he said that about 45 percent of undocumented people in the country are already across the border with expired visas.
Sundquist added that immigrants are essential to the workforce in the district, which relies on them heavily for agricultural jobs.
"As all of this is going on let's not forget about our Dreamers,” he said, referencing people who were brought to the United States illegally as children. "We need to get them a pathway to citizenship, and we need to do it now."
On June 21 The League of Women Voters of Tompkins County, WRFI Community Radio and the Tompkins County Democratic Committee co-sponsored a candidates forum featuring the five Democratic candidates vying to unseat the 23rd district’s Republican incumbent Tom Reed in November. The candidates are Linda Andrei, Max Della Pia, Ian Golden, Tracy Mitrano, and Eddie Sundquist. We are pleased to present the audio of the event here in unaltered and in its entirety. The only addition is the brief identification of each candidate. The event was moderated by Kay Sharp of the the League of Women Voters of Tompkins County and produced for WRFI Community Radio by Felix Teitelbaum.
The event, originally held at The Space At GreenStar, was simulcast on WRFI, and will be aired again on Sunday June 24 from 1-3pm. Primary elections in New York will be held Tuesday, June 26.
Photo: Kelsey O'Connor for the Ithaca Voice
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