KINDERHOOK — Gareth Rhodes, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for the 19th Congressional District this year, said the lack of high-speed broadband in Columbia and Greene counties is an issue the federal government should be able to fix.
Rhodes, of Kerhonkson, held a town hall meeting Friday night at The School, 25 Broad St., where he discussed his views on taxpayer flight, health care, infrastructure, immigration and President Donald Trump with around 80 supporters and foes of incumbent U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19.
Rhodes was prepared for the question-and-answer session, providing coherent and diverse responses to a number of issues, and made it a point to set himself apart from his potential Republican competitor. Rhodes said the flight of young people and taxpayers is a major issue he said he can reverse if elected.
Among many national issues discussed during the meeting Rhodes said the federal government should be able to help people in Columbia and Greene counties get quality, high-speed internet access by compelling internet providers to offer uniform broadband infrastructure throughout their coverage area.
“I was in Roxbury, in Delaware County, and visited the Roxbury Motel. I was told that Google had planned to have a conference in Roxbury, but then they found out that there is not high-speed internet. So they canceled the conference,” Rhodes said. “This is something the government should be able to do. Internet providers should be required to provide the same access to everyone in their region.”
Rhodes, who often talks about his experience working as an aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said that though the governor’s Broadband for All initiative helped to give incentives to internet providers to expand high-speed broadband, he admitted the program has its weaknesses.
“The problem is that the program provides wealthy internet providers with funding to do something that they should be doing anyway,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes was talking to members of a community plagued by lack of strong internet access even though local internet provider FairPoint Communications was awarded $36.7 million in Phase II of the New NY Broadband Program last year. FairPoint, which is merging with Illinois-based Consolidated Communications on a condition that Consolidated invest its own $4 million to expand broadband access, was required as part of the grant to invest $9.3 million to expand access.
The broadband issue contributes to what Rhodes said is one of the biggest problems facing New York: the exodus of young people from the state.
“Hudson and Warren Street have been brought back up [economically], but it is very hard to live in Hudson,” Rhodes said. “We need more middle income housing so people will be able to live in the area.”
A sound infrastructure bill would give people reasons to stay in the area, but not overly burden local taxpayers, Rhodes said.
“We need to keep young people here. That is the root of the problem,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes also proposed a living wage imposed at the federal level, saying that taxpayer flight affects the 19th Congressional District disproportionately than other New York Congressional districts because it touches four other states: Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
“There is taxpayer flight and jobs leave because New York has strong protections for workers,” Rhodes said. Rhodes promised to take care of unions at the federal level, providing protections for workers.
“There are thousands of unfilled jobs in this district and a lack of vocational training,” Rhodes said. “The federal government can do something about this. We can have an infrastructure bill that earmarks money for real job training.”
Rhodes proposed more one-year certification classes and eight-week training programs at community colleges.
Faso also presses the issue of taxpayer flight from New York, often referring to it when discussing the tax reform law that came out of Washington at the end of last year, but often says it is up to the governor to cut state spending to reduce the state’s high taxes.
“Greene County is No. 1 for opioid deaths in the state. This epidemic needs to be stopped,” Rhodes said. “That starts with holding drug companies accountable for pedaling cheap pain killers and using that money toward education.”
A single-payer health care system is the best way to end the opioid and heroin epidemic that is killing young people all across the country, Rhodes said.
“The health system in this country has caused this problem — a system purely driven by profits,” Rhodes said. “This problem is not going to stop without first changing the system.”
Columbia County had two opioid overdose deaths between April and June last year, according to the latest data from the state Health Department. The county had 16 opioid-related overdoses during that same time period. The state Health Department’s data show Greene County had one overdose death between January and March of last year and zero the next quarter, but had 13 opioid-related overdoses between April and June of 2017.
“People say I’m too young to run for this position,” Rhodes said. “I will put my record up against Faso’s any day of the week. What have you done for your district, John Faso?”