ELMIRA | A debate held Wednesday night among the Democratic contenders for the 23rd District congressional seat featured a lot of promises to hold to key Democratic principles -- but not a lot of contention.
The result was an event, jointly held by the Chemung and Steuben county Democratic committees, that gave potential primary voters a chance to see how the candidates presented themselves on stage, but didn’t paint a great deal of contrast between them.
It started with the first question, from the Southern Tier Library System, on whether the candidates would support funding for libraries and other cultural institutions.
By random draw, Max Della Pia, of Owego, and Rick Gallant, of Corning, were given the opportunity to answer.
“Education is the bridge to hope,” Della Pia said, expressing his strong support for local libraries. “We depend on an educated electorate for our democracy.”
“I agree with Max,” he told the crowd of about 100. “Rebutting something like this would be crazy. Everyone in this room supports this concept.”
The cycle repeated itself on issues such as clean energy, early childhood education, infrastructure investments and support for unions.
“Without our unions as the backbone of our society, protecting our rights, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Eddie Sundquist of Jamestown.
“We are all Democrats here, so you are not going to get a counter-opinion to what Eddie (Sundquist) so nicely stated,” replied Tracy Mitrano of Penn Yan and Ithaca.
Some of the candidates also expressed strong support of a single-payer healthcare system, including Mitrano, Linda Andrei of Ithaca and Ian Golden, also of Ithaca.
There was some disagreement.
Andrei and Mitrano clashed over who was more willing to describe themselves as a ‘progressive.’
Mitrano initially seemed wary about the question, which asked if they’d describe themselves as a moderate or progressive candidate.
“When you’ve got a congressman who loves to bully and label people, this is a big pothole that he’s waiting for us to fall into,” she said.
But Mitrano went on to say that she’s in support of single-payer health care, free community college, improved internet infrastructure, net neutrality and conservation.
“If that’s progressive, them I’m a progressive,” she said.
Andrei didn’t seem satisfied with that answer.
She implied Mitrano wasn’t really committed to single-payer because she’s called for a five-year transition from the current system, something Mitrano says is necessary to allow for a smooth transition and to avoid a “spike” in taxes.
“This is an emergency, we can’t wait five years,” Andrei countered. “If we decide to take a step backwards, or if we decide to wait and see, then we have lost the opportunity that we have right now.”
The exchange highlighted how details can make a difference, particularly to a primary audience.
It also seemed to show that Mitrano and Andrei see each other as direct rivals, and maybe the frontrunners, given the way they quickly engaged each other despite the mostly friendly event, which included actual hugs between candidates.
Andrei, at least, certainly sees herself as a frontrunner.
When asked whether each of them would be willing to support whichever candidate wins the June 26 primary, her answer was slightly different.
“I am the candidate that is going to win that primary, so I hope you’re all ready to support me,” she told her colleagues.
Information on each of the candidates is available online: www.andreimd4congress.com, www.maxhdellapia.com, rickgallantforcongress.com, www.goldenforcongress.com, www.tracymitranoforcongress.com and www.eddiesundquist.com.