MOREAU — After eight congressional candidates, hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, responded to questions for nearly three hours during the NY-21 Congressional Candidates Forum in South Glens Falls on Sunday, Democrat Tedra Cobb emerged as the frontrunner from a straw poll of 176 attendees.
The event at the Moreau Community Center drew nearly 200 who, by a show of hands, indicated they were there to learn more about the candidates and their platforms.
According to forum organizer Bob Lippman of CAT21, the grassroots organization hosting the forum, those who officially announced their congressional candidacy for the November midterm election as of Jan. 2 were invited to participate. Originally the deadline was Dec. 12, but it was later changed.
“Our goal is to increase awareness on issues relevant to the constituents of District 21 and to increase community engagement in the process of governing our nation,” Lippman said.
Of the eligible candidates, nine agreed to participate in Sunday’s forum, the second hosted by CAT21.
Democrats Tanya Boone of Granville, Don Boyajian of Cambridge, Tedra Cobb of Canton, Sara Idleman of Greenwich, Ronald Kim of Queensbury, Emily Martz of Saranac Lake, Patrick Nelson of Stillwater and Katie Wilson of Keene were present. Republican Russell Finley of St. Lawrence, who plans to run against Stefanik in both the Republican and Conservative party primaries, was unable to participate at the last minute because his mother was undergoing emergency surgery in Syracuse. Finley, however, sent his apologies, which Lippman read to the audience of nearly 200.
Additionally, Finley wanted to clarify a point about the upcoming election.
“To the media and constituents in attendance, I want to make a clarification about this race. This is no longer about which Democratic candidate is going to be challenging the winner of the Republican primary,” Lippman read from Finley. “Given that the Congresswoman has not attended any of the five forums, spent any time in the district with the voters and especially has not announced for re-election, this race is now which one of many Democrats will be challenging me as the Republican nominee in the November election.”
Those attending laughed.
According to Lippman, Stefanik did not respond to her invitation to attend. In an email response to The Post-Star last week, Stefanik’s campaign spokesman, Lenny Alcivar, said the congresswoman held a strong lead when she was previously elected and that the crowded pool of Democratic challengers shows support has not coalesced around any single candidate.
Nonetheless, Lippman said that Sunday’s forum, the second hosted by CAT21, was a way to begin narrowing the field of candidates vying for the nomination.
“As we are coming ever closer to the Democratic and Republican primaries, we have modified our format to help draw distinctions between the candidates, probe their positions and get a sense of whether favorites are emerging.”
At the opening of the forum, attendees were given a paper ballot and asked to mark their three top candidates for a closing straw poll to see where candidates emerged. According to the poll: Cobb, 23 percent; Nelson, 17 percent; Martz, 14 percent; Boone, 12 percent; Kim, 10 percent; Wilson, 7 percent; and Idleman, 7 percent.
SUNY Adirondack Assistant Professor of Political Science Wendy Johnston moderated the forum, asking candidates four questions relating to what percent of the funding they have already raised comes from the district; the recently passed tax bill and whether it will benefit District 21; what is their message to voters who supported Stefanik and how will they win their support; and will they pledge, if they are not the winner, to help elect the Democratic nominee.
Initially, Johnson invited all eight candidates to speak for five minutes about what distinguishes them from the pack. There was a common theme about how the American dream has vanished and how difficult it is for families to succeed. A majority of the candidates pointed to Stefanik as not having the interest of her constituents in mind.
“We need to ask, where was Elise?” said Cobb. “Where’s Elise? She’s not here, that’s what we need to do, we need to hold her accountable.”
Boone said she will work to reverse income inequality. She talked about how her grandfather, Daniel Boone (and yes, she said they are descendants of the American pioneer Daniel Boone) was able to make a living and how her maternal grandfather, who worked at Comstock prison, could support a family of nine children on one income.
“Today, my middle brother works two jobs and he works harder for less,” Boone said.
Others echoed Boone’s sentiments. And Boyadjian said he wants to be an architect for change.
Cobb talked about her family, her parents, her biological brother and her nine adopted siblings; about how she sees issues like CHIP funding, HIV-AIDS money; opioid addiction treatment through the lens of her life experiences and her time working with her own business and at a state prison.
Idleman said what distinguishes her is that she is electable; Kim said, as a lawyer, he works with clients about to lose their homes or those who have been sexually harassed. “Those are the laws I’m going to change,” he said.
With her economic development experience, Martz said she knows about how to get jobs and keep jobs. Nelson said he’s talked to voters from the Canadian border to the Capitol and they believe the government no longer works for them. “This is what corruption looks like,” he said.
And like many of the other candidates, Wilson talked about the pressures on families to just get by.
“Our families and our futures are under attack like they have never been before,” Wilson said.