Plan for Saranac Lake congressional debate canceled

The three candidates to represent New York's 21st Congressional District are incumbent U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican who calls Willsboro home; Lynn Kahn of Schroon Lake, running on the Green Party line; and Tedra Cobb, a Democrat from Canton. (Photos provided)

SARANAC LAKE — A debate the Adirondack Daily Enterprise tried to organize between congressional candidates in this village will not take place.

The newspaper called off the event because incumbent U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik declined to participate. Tedra Cobb of Canton, the Democratic nominee, and Lynn Kahn, a Green Party candidate from Schroon Lake, agreed to participate in the Saranac Lake debate, but the Enterprise opted not to proceed with only them.

The Republican’s campaign spokesman, Lenny Alcivar, did not say why Stefanik would not take part. In response to that question, he sent a reply that criticized Cobb’s recent press conference and said Stefanik would stick to her previously announced schedule of three debates in television studios: Mountain Lake PBS in Plattsburgh Oct. 23, WWNY in Watertown Oct. 30 and Spectrum News in Albany on a date to be announced.

Alcivar also said Cobb has not committed to the Spectrum debate. Cobb’s campaign spokesman Brian Philips Jr. said she has committed to all three TV debates, on the condition that there is an audience of constituents, and is trying to get an audience for the other TV debates as well. Kahn has committed to all three TV debates, and Cobb and Kahn have also committed to a League of Women Voters forum Oct. 18, which Stefanik has not committed to.

“TV debates are good, but if there are going to be multiple debates, we think it’s important for voters to have at least one they can attend in person,” Enterprise Managing Editor Peter Crowley said. “Plus, Saranac Lake is centrally located in the huge 21st Congressional District, which spans all of northern New York. This would have been a classic-format debate, like we’ve organized for voters many times in the past. Without the incumbent, however, it wouldn’t do voters much good. We wish we knew why the Stefanik campaign doesn’t want to take part.”

The Saranac Lake debate would have taken place in mid-October — three possible dates were floated when Congress is not in session — at the Harrietstown Town Hall, which has capacity for 650 people. The Enterprise has organized many political debates there over the years; the last one for a federal race was in 2012 in the Republican primary contest between Matt Doheny and Doug Hoffman.

Kahn and Cobb both asked why the Enterprise does not host the event anyway, with the two of them and an empty chair for Stefanik.

“We don’t think an event like that would serve undecided voters very well,” Crowley said. “It would draw fans of the participating candidates, but getting all the candidates together to discuss issues would be much more valuable. People who want to criticize Ms. Stefanik for her absence are welcome to do that without us going to the trouble of holding an event.”

(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Alcivar and Philips are their candidates’ campaign managers; they are campaign spokesmen.)