HUDSON — Six Democratic hopefuls looking to challenge U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, in the 2018 19th Congressional District race gathered in Hudson on Sunday for a forum where they discussed their positions on various issues.
The forum, held at Hudson Intermediate School, was sponsored by Indivisible Chatham NY, Indivisible CD19 NY. the Capital Region Chapter of the New York Progressive Action Network and Columbia County Young Democrats.
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, answered questions read by the moderators that came from a range of individuals and organizations in Columbia County.
Sue Sullivan, of Plattekill, announced in September she was ending her candidacy, and Steven Brisee, of Wallkill, announced on his personal Facebook page in October he was dropping out of the race. Faso won the November 2016 election over Democrat Zephyr Teachout to replace Chris Gibson, who retired after serving three terms.
One of the issues discussed was underemployment and economic development.
Flynn believes more ‘“green” jobs need to be created and he is proposing a $300 billion Marshall Plan that would include training and retraining workers as automation becomes more prevalent.
“The workforce is completely disrupted by artificial intelligence,” Flynn said.
Beals said three of the candidates, who he did not name, work for large corporations responsible for job loss. Beals believes the tax code has to be reformed, workers’ benefits need to be fought for and investments should be made in infrastructure.
“We have an employment and underemployment crisis in our district and the cause of it is corporate power,” Beals said. “That corporate power has bought out our own representative and it has bought out our own ability to take control of our economy.”
Delgado described the moment when his parents bought a home because of hard work at good paying jobs as life changing. Delgado believes investment needs to be made in transportation and the natural resources the area has to offer.
‘“This is a critical focus of mine and certainly something that’s an essential part of my platform, particularly,” Delgado said. “What we’ve seen over the last 10, 15 years is a shift away from more sugar-based products to locally grown organic food — well, guess what, that’s our advantage and we can really maximize that with real local investment.”
Towards the end of the forum, the candidates were asked what were three issues Columbia County is facing and how they would address them.
For Rhodes, the most important issues are fighting the opioid epidemic, bringing more efficient broadband and creating jobs.
“It’s so important to do everything we can to keep our young people here,” Rhodes said. “We have to fight tooth and nail to make sure we’re creating the environment to attract job growth.” When Ryan has talked to residents in Columbia County, he said people have told him they want to be secure in their health and in the ability to provide for their families. Ryan also cited a divide across the country as an issue he wants to tackle.
“As we think about our message as a Democratic party and specifically in this district, we’ve got to be focused on what are those visceral issues that we’re hearing over and over from people,” Ryan said.
Clegg wants to focus on affordable housing and combating the opioid epidemic by focusing on having treatment programs for addicts.
“We really need to focus on responsibility of the pharmaceutical industry for what happened,” Clegg said.
While Flynn said the wave of Democrats winning elections across the nation is good news, he is not relying on that wave to win.
“We can’t be anti-anything — we can’t be anti-Trump, we can’t be anti-Faso,” Flynn said. “I believe we have to be pro-something.”
Delgado was pleased with the turnout and said it served as a good opportunity for residents to get educated about the issues.
“It’s exciting for democracy, it’s exciting for folks to sit and listen and engage,” Delgado said.
Clegg felt there was a lot of energy and he said the audience was engaged and familiar with the issues.
“I thought the questions were good, they brought up some really important issues,” Clegg said. “What’s going on here locally is important, what’s going on in the world is important.”
Beals described the forum as a lively one and a rebuke to Faso, who he said has been “bought” by corporate donors.
“It’s a spirited discussion, but it’s also underlined by the fact that the stakes are really high,” Beals said.
Ryan would have liked to speak more in depth about economic development and job growth, and he and the other candidates can focus their collective energy on Faso, he said.
“It was a great way to kick off the next year push,” Ryan said.
Rhodes said he has gotten support from all areas of the district and he is taking his Winnebago to a diner in another town to listen to potential voters.
“People want a new generation of folks who understand what it’s like to have a working class background here in the district,” Rhodes said.
Janet Mackin, of Copake, likes the choice of candidates and said it will be hard to choose one as the campaign progresses.
“It was incredibly informative,” Mackin said of the forum.
Jo Miller, of Hunter, would have liked to hear the candidates discuss more issues and said the forum helped her to decide which candidate she will vote for. Miller will research the candidates online to learn more about their positions.
“It’s one forum — we have a little while,” Miller said.
While Miller would have liked to see more female candidates running in this race she said the ones that are in the race are strong contenders.
“Smart candidates is really nice to see,” Miller said.
Gail Bennek, of Clermont, thought the forum was helpful for her in whittling down which candidate she would vote for. Bennek said she has three candidates she would potentially vote for but declined to name them.
“It’s energizing how the choice is so wide,” Bennek said of the candidates. “They talked about a lot of important issues.”
To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.