Stanfordville Grange hospitably provided an event for local candidates running for federal and state office. They offered attendees a free home-cooked turkey dinner. About thirty people attended. I was impressed at the high percentage of young people. For me this forum served as a reminder that elections are not always about the top of the ticket, but that perhaps the more relevant and substantial reason to vote remains local.
Deb Smith, President of the Grange, briefly introduced the candidates: for Congress, Zephyr Teachout and John Faso; for State Assembly, Didi Barrett and Terry Sullivan; for State Senate, Terry Gipson. Sue Serino, who has refused to debate Gipson, did not attend, yet this was a forum not a debate. Grange member Jimmy Rogers moderated with stern formality that melted to affable informality.
Each candidate was given three minutes to introduce themselves and to conclude. Audience questions occupied the interval. I have only space for summary. All candidates present expressed some disappointment about their party’s recent performance as well as the head of their ticket. Each candidate framed themselves as a reformer. Candidates running for state office bemoaned corruption, deadlock, and waste in Albany. Everybody agreed that the Federal government should keep out of elementary schools, especially testing. Teachout memorably said that No Child Left Behind testing was like trying to “fatten the pig by weighing it;” Faso quipped it was like “the tail wagging the dog.”
Principled disagreement emerged on the subject of the State Tax Cap. Gipson forthrightly attacked it as a “Band-Aid gimmick,” offering only a temporary solution that could not eliminate the problem in the long run. The cap slowed the rise of homeowner taxes, yet permitted the very rich to avoid paying their fair share. Terry Sullivan replied that it should be retained and that tax payer savings might come from cutting wasteful spending and restricting unfunded mandates. Didi Barrett agreed that the program was working—that it was a useful tool holding rampant spending in check.
Didi Barrett, running for her third term, focused on the rebirth of local agriculture, tax-credits for State Thruway tolls for in-state businesses, revival of competent BOCES training for trades like carpentry, plumbing, and slate roofing to address older homes, parks, and historical architecture. She boasted bringing $20 million for farmland preservation to the district and expressed the need for programs to help aging seniors, for mental health and drug programs in schools, and Veterans. She spoke out against the proposed 47% salary increase for Assembly members.
Dr. Terry Sullivan, who lives in Copake, is a speech pathologist and audiologist formerly on the town board. She feels that the middle class is not being fairly represented in Albany. She portrayed herself as someone who shares the community’s values. She denounced corruption in Albany and urged transparency. As a healthcare specialist she said she could bring expertise to improving it for citizens and Veterans. Term-limit reform was a priority that would address corruption in Albany.
Terry Gipson pitched his appeal to the struggling middle-class that needs a property tax cut. He asked if voters approved the status quo, or do voters want a leader to fight for change? As a State Senator, he said he would fight to eliminate wasteful spending while working on state and local waste water systems. Also, he would get involved in healthcare reform and state programs for youth, especially in employment. He envisions bringing industry back while protecting our water from contamination. He wants a zero interest loan program through the state for small businesses to hire local people. He wants more investment by the state in clean energy.
Faso declared Congress has abdicated its legislative role. On Dodd-Frank Faso argued that it burdened local banks with the albatross to pay for extra paperwork “that nobody read” and that the problem of the 2008 meltdown had not much to do with local New York banks, but with the giant national banks and pushy Federal programs. He noted what we should have is more stringent regulation regarding bank-capital assets as proof for sound investments. Faso emphasized the rule of law, the need to foster free enterprise, economic growth, equal opportunity, and personal responsibility. He wants innovative, pragmatic transition programs to move people off welfare.
Zephyr Teachout decried that elected representatives in Congress spend 40-70% of their time fund-raising, which is why they have little time for their actual job. She noted her average supporter contributed $19 to her campaign and that Big Money was destroying our electoral system. She wants to address in Congress two health issues on a national level: Lyme disease and dental care, which is an essential health component for the heart as well as systemic infections, to say nothing of dignity. She would work with Bernie Sanders to add dental care to Medicare and to Veteran’s benefits.
Despite low turnout on World Series opening night, discussion was notable for witty geniality among the candidates, a civility apparently lacking in elections that receive wider coverage. All lamented the bitter partisan divide that offers no solutions; they were unanimous in expressing willingness to work legislation across the aisle.