GHENT — Six Democratic candidates vying to challenge U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, in the 19th Congressional District race came to the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School in Ghent on Sunday for a campaign event of a different variety.
The event, sponsored by Indivisible Chatham, was dubbed “candi-dating,” similar to speed dating, where candidates Jeff Beals, of Woodstock, David Clegg, of Woodstock, Antonio Delgado, of Rhinebeck, Brian Flynn, of Hunter, Gareth Rhodes, of Kerhonkson, and Pat Ryan, of Gardiner, visited six different rooms of the school for 12 minutes apiece to answer questions from constituents. The candidates were then given two minutes to offer a closing statement to the crowd.
This is the first time a speed dating-type event for candidates has been held, Indivisible Chatham Steering Committee Vice Chair Brenda Gevertz said.
“We have done it before for young professionals to meet executives in not-for-profit agencies, so I said, ‘We can apply it to put in a political form,’” Gevertz said after the meeting.
Each candidate first answered two questions provided by Indivisible Chatham members to make a baseline of comparison between each candidate, and then answered questions from participants, Gevertz said.
“They’re [the candidates] meeting a lot of people in a more intimate setting and they’re not listening to the other candidates give the same spiel,” she said. “This way, they’re just talking and answering the direct questions that people had.”
The event gave participants a chance to ask a question they may not get to ask in a larger forum with hundreds of other people. Gevertz said she hopes an event like this can be held again soon.
“The candidates seemed happy with it, so if they’re happy and the participants are happy, we’re happy,” she said.
The biggest topics Ryan said he heard about from residents were gun control and how he can win the race.
“We had great conversations about how I’m the strongest candidate to beat John Faso,” Ryan said after the event.
The speed dating-style format gave Ryan a chance to meet with many people, but he said there was one thing he wished he had.
“I would have loved to have more time to talk about the issues with everybody,” he said. “I think everybody felt that way, but it was a great event.”
Gun control, gun violence and climate change were some of the major issues Clegg said were on people’s minds.
“Obviously John Faso’s a big issue,” Clegg said with a laugh.
Clegg never did a campaign event before where he visited six different rooms in a short span of time, but said it was very effective.
“I thought it gave everyone a chance to have at least a solid look at what you had to say,” Clegg said. “You can walk around the room and really get up close and personal with folks.”
The event was a great way to approach politics, Beals said.
“We’ve all been in a relationship with John Faso for a year now and we want out,” Beals said. “He represents corporations, not the people.” For Beals, many of the participants asked him if he will stand for Medicaid for all, young adults with crippling student loan debt and consumer rights, he said.
A future “candi-dating” event against Faso wouldn’t be out of the question for Beals if he wins the nomination, he said.
“I am not afraid to take on John Faso in any event, any forum, be it a ‘candi-dating’ event, a debate, a forum or a rodeo, let’s do it,” he said.
This type of event forced candidates to be straightforward because of the limited time in each space, according to Delgado, who said it was similar to when candidates knock on doors.
“It kept you on your toes and I like that,” Delgado said. “There was a certain energy to it that I think actually needs to be reflected in how you campaign.”
The most frequent question Delgado was asked was how he was going to win the election, he said.
“They understand how important this election’s going to be, they understand how vulnerable John Faso is, but they also understand that he’s going to be formidable,” Delgado said.
Flynn was asked about what his plan is to win the election, and he said he heard concerns about how to make Faso accountable for his actions.
“It was encouraging,” Flynn said.
The event was well organized and a great opportunity to meet with smaller groups of potential voters, Flynn said. If given the chance to do an event like this again, Flynn said he would be happy to participate.
“It was really invigorating and inspiring,” he said. “We were able to engage with voters and even win over some voters.”
Rhodes, 29, heard from people who were inspired by his government and experience at a young age and his trip to the district’s 163 towns in a Winnebago to listen to residents, he said.
“I’m the only candidate going to many of these towns,” Rhodes said.
The event was a sign of how powerful a grassroots approach to politicking is, according to Rhodes.
“Going to every single town is working on listening and harnessing that energy that I see in every town in New York 19 and bringing those voices to Washington,” he said. “Today was just a part of that.”
It was less intimidating for people to ask a candidate questions because there were about 10 people in each room, Kristie Schmidt, of Millerton, said.
“It was a good length,” Schmidt said.
While Joe Browdy, of Hillsdale, said he was skeptical of the “candi-dating” idea at first, he quickly warmed up to it. The event didn’t help make Browdy’s decision of who he would vote for any easier.
“I think it’s very clever,” Browdy said. “The 12 minutes went by very fast.”
The format was a good idea and gives people more courage to ask questions, Leslie Korda, of Chatham, said.
“It is a bit repetitive, especially when you have six candidates on a similar platform,” Korda said. “I like it better than listening to people standing up.”
Korda said she would like to see more young voters come out and participate.
“The whole event was very successful,” she said.
To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.