RANDOLPH — Candidates for Congress circled the rim of the Randolph Fire Company Saturday in a straw poll forum and vote orchestrated by the Allegany, Chautauqua, and Cattaraugus Democratic Committees Saturday.
Seven out of the eight formally declared democratic candidates were in the room, making conversation with constituents from each county making up the 23rd congressional district from Jamestown to Ithaca.
“The idea was to just raise everybody’s profile, to get people excited in the community, to make people know that an election is going to sneak up on us pretty darn quick,” Norm Green, chairman of the Chautauqua County Democratic Committee, said.
The event was also the first case where the candidates would receive any type of public polling. Each attendee received one ballot to cast for the candidate of their choosing. Around 200 votes were cast, leaving Ithaca entrepreneur, Ian Golden, narrowly securing the win with 30 percent of the vote.
“I’m not going to internalize it too much about it just being about me,” Golden said. “I’m thankful about the momentum we’re building and the turnout obviously.”
Jamestown lawyer Eddie Sundquist and Penn Yan cyber security expert Tracy Mitrano won 26 percent and 24 percent of the vote, respectively. Retired Air Force veteran and Owego resident, Max Della Pia, took fourth place, with 14 percent.
“I’m encouraged with the enthusiasm of the people of the 23rd congressional district and wanting to replace Tom Reed. Today’s poll showed that. Myself and my team continue to be a front runner as we move through the district meeting people and listening to their concerns,” Sundquist said after hearing the results. “Both Mr. Golden and I share a strong love for this district and I am excited for the upcoming primary.”
Golden said it was a major effort to mobilize supporters from his base in the eastern part of the district to travel out west to Cattaraugus County for the poll, but didn’t expect near the turnout nor the results.
“I really, honestly, wasn’t expecting to get the win, especially being on another candidate’s home turf,” Golden said. “It very much just allows the hometown candidate an advantage, so I really wasn’t expecting to win.”
The Golden campaign’s efforts included setting up transportation and housing for anybody who wanted to go out to the event, drawing rumors and criticism that he had even paid for attendees’ ballots.
“There’s not a chance, not a possibility,” campaign manager Brian Batrowny said in response to the rumors. “If there’s somebody that was paid to cast a ballot, that would be news to me.”
Batrowny did clarify that his campaign did offer the transportation and a place to stay overnight into Saturday, but did so for anybody, not just supporters of the campaign.
The remaining six percent of the vote was split between the remaining names on the ballot — Naples social worker Karl Warrington, Geneva economist Charles Whalen, Corning teacher Rick Gallant, and Ulysses actor John Hertzler.
Whalen was not present for the event, but was represented via his wife acting as a surrogate.
Hertzler remained on the ballot despite declaring as an independent after the event was announced in mid-September. His campaign manager, Michelle Couwenhoven, said he was “uninvited.” Green said neither himself nor any of the organizers uninvited Hertzler.
Tom Reed for Congress campaign manager Nicholas Weinstein attempted to stay for the event, but was asked to leave by event organizers shortly after arriving.
“It’s disappointing that organizers would eject me because of my political beliefs from an event described as open to the public,” Weinstein said in a written comment. “It’s a clear contrast with our record of accessibility at over 200 town hall meetings where we’ve welcomed folks from across the political spectrum, including many of our nine opponents, to join us and engage in a conversation about the issues facing the district."
Golden, Sundquist, Mitrano, Della Pia, Gallant, Whalen and Warrington will face a real vote in the Democratic Primary sometime in late June. The winner of that race will go toe to toe with Republican incumbent, Congressman Tom Reed, and any independent candidates next November.
Vaughn Golden is a freelance political journalist. He is not related to the Ian Golden mentioned in this article.