This article was written by Michael Fitzgerald, and published in the Finger Lakes Times on Sunday, September 23, in his WRITE ON column
The best political news in weeks — maybe months — was published right here in the Finger Lakes Times Sunday and yesterday. Incumbent GOP Congressman Tom Reed of Corning has agreed to three debates with Democratic challenger Tracy Mitrano of Yates County.
The key word in that last sentence is “debates.”
Most of the politicking in the 23rd Congressional District usually involves throwing money into media advertising, distributing blizzards of campaign literature, solo appearances before friendly audiences and sometimes attending League of Women Voters informational forums.
But getting Reed and Mitrano on the same stage — answering sharply drawn questions and having unscripted give and take — could illustrate the clear differences between them.
The one downside is the debates come extremely late in the cycle: Oct. 24, 30 and Nov. 1.
In coming weeks the hosting media entities likely will be refereeing some pre-debates over rules of engagement for the events, with specifics hotly argued between Reed’s handlers and Mitrano’s supporters. Either candidate could pull out of one or more of the agreed upon appearances citing perceived unfairness in debate rules.
Let’s hope the debates go on, even if late in the election cycle.
The incumbent Congressman’s willingness to directly face his opponent in this election in three debates is likely rooted in the same fear that grips most of the GOP, the much-discussed Democratic “blue wave” touted by pollsters.
Even with that, Mitrano’s chance of ousting Reed is a long shot given his abundant campaign coffers and incumbency advantage.
The debates could change the odds if Mitrano and/or the debate moderators are able to pin down the often-elusive Congressman on how he will vote in the future on key issues such as funding for Social Security and Medicare and where he stands on abortion rights.
Reed’s fervent devotion to President Donald Trump’s ever-shifting agenda puts him firmly in the camp supporting U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Whether Kavanaugh makes it to that bench or not, a clear, unequivocal statement from Reed about his position on women’s rights would be important for voters to hear.
Ditto for Social Security and Medicare benefits.
Reed has been quietly supportive of plans floating around Congress to cut Medicare and Social Security. Any such plans won’t surface until after the November election depending on who holds the majority in the House of Representatives.
A pledge from both candidates to maintain Social Security and Medicare benefits would make for good debate drama, particularly if Reed attempts to sidestep a pledge by giving a slippery non-answer.
The announcement of the Reed-Mitrano debates might also embolden other entities around the Finger Lakes to sponsor debates for other offices — hopefully much earlier.
In the 58th State Senate District race, voters would likely love to see incumbent State Sen. Tom O’Mara square off against Democratic challenger Amanda Kirchgessner.
Like Mitrano, Kirchgessner has a steep climb to unseat O’Mara. But in a face-to-face debate, she could grill him about whether he would fight to oppose the proposed industrial garbage incinerator project in Romulus.
It might also be interesting to ask him to state publicly whether he supports this past summer’s decision by New York State to deny a permit to store liquid propane gas in salt caverns north of Watkins Glen. And whether he thinks NY should allow hydrofracking.
Debates between candidates have a long history in the U.S. of contributing to voter understanding of office-seekers’ true natures and convictions. It’s one thing for a candidate to send out a snarky campaign mailer, accusing an opponent of having an extreme agenda.
It’s something else to face an opponent and explain what “extreme” really means.
Fitzgerald has worked at six newspapers as a writer and editor as well as a correspondent for two news services. He splits his time between Valois, NY and Pt. Richmond, CA. You can email him at Michael.Fitzgeraldfltcolumnist@gmail.com and visit his website at michaeljfitzgerald.blogspot.com.