Stefanik’s presence looms despite absence at forum

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)

LAKE GEORGE — NY-21 Democratic candidate Tedra Cobb and Green Party candidate Lynn Kahn agreed on pretty much everything Thursday evening during a candidates forum at Lake George high school, disagreeing only on who is the better candidate to take on the one candidate not present at the event — incumbent U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro).

“Ms. Stefanik declined our invitation to attend,” said moderator Barbara Thomas of the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County, which organized the event. “She was offered the opportunity to submit an opening statement, but we have not received one.”

About 30 people attended the event and the crowd seemed to be made up of supporters of each candidate seeking to unseat Stefanik, who is trying for her third two-year term.

A couple of people said they worried that Cobb and Kahn would split the anti-Stefanik votes.

“Given the historic importance of the 2018 election, would you consider withdrawing and throwing your support behind Tedra Cobb?” asked a man who declined to give his name afterward.

In response, Kahn pointed out that the biggest voting bloc in NY-21 is made up of nonvoters. Also, she cited a statistic that only 15 percent of people have confidence in government.

“I think Republicans and Democrats are splitting the 15 percent that believe government can do something good, and I’m going for the other 85 percent,” she said.

Kahn said the problem is a “broken two-party system” and people are eager for a third candidate not beholden to corporate interests.

“Democrats and Republicans in Washington can’t get past hating each other to get anything done,” she said.

Andy Mack, who lives in Clifton Park but has a camp in the North Country, said he has spoken with people concerned that “having two progressive candidates with similar ideas, split the vote and that would end up resulting in the change not happening that we all want to see.”

Cobb said she disagrees with Kahn that Republicans and Democrats hate each other.

“I have found that the rhetoric coming from this country’s leadership does not reflect our values, does not reflect the people in this district,” she said.

Thoughts on Stefanik, Trump

The candidates were asked why Stefanik was not there.

Kahn said the major party candidates are running scared. “I think she’s not comfortable facing an audience,” Kahn said.

Cobb said she does not know why Stefanik did not come.

“I have no idea why she would invite the speaker of the house and not bring him to meet her constituents,” she said, referring to a visit by Paul Ryan on Tuesday for a fundraiser. “It’s a pattern of behavior that Elise Stefanik has shown during her four-year tenure.”

The candidates were asked to say a nice thing about President Donald Trump and Stefanik.

Cobb said Trump has gotten people more focused on politics.

“One of the things that this president has done is awakened this country and gotten people to start paying attention. Every election matters,” she said.

As for Stefanik, Cobb said “it’s a hard question when you don’t know somebody.”

“I think that I can’t speak to her as a person, especially after a summer of being attacked by her,” she said.

Kahn said Trump tapped into people’s pain and rage and the disconnect between people who live in cities and those in rural areas. A Republican friend made her go to a Trump rally, she said.

“What I respect is his ability to communicate. We need to learn from that. It’s really straightforward. It’s one line, two lines at a time. He really understands his base. He knows what the applause lines are,” she said.

Kahn’s allotted time was up before she gave an answer about Stefanik.

Kahn is an organizational psychologist who has worked in government for 32 years, including 22 years at the Federal Aviation Administration. She said she knows how to fix government.

Cobb has lived in the North Country for 30 years. After attending SUNY Potsdam, she got married and raised a family. She started her own consulting business and served on the St. Lawrence County Legislature. She has been a volunteer firefighter and helped get a health initiative off the ground.

Immigration/health care

Both candidates said they disagreed with the Trump administration’s threat to close the southern border if a caravan of asylum seekers tries to get permission to enter the U.S.

“At no time have we had this kind of negative behavior to people who are fleeing their countries in danger coming to this country or separating families,” Cobb said.

Kahn said the country needs to make a distinction between people fleeing poverty, war and gang violence and those who are drug runners.

Candidates were asked what they would do about the federal deficit and potential cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Cobb said the Social Security trust is solvent and can stay that way if cap on income subject to taxation is raised. She would oppose any attempts to privatize Social Security or turn Medicare into a voucher program.

Kahn said she believes there is a tremendous amount of waste in government, estimating it at a trillion dollars, and that money could be used for universal health care and infrastructure improvements.

“I will never vote to raise taxes. I don’t buy the myth that we have to cut social services,” she said.

The two shared similar views on health care. Kahn is in support of Medicare for All legislation with some amendments she has suggested.

Cobb said she backs plans that result in affordable and portable health care. That could be Medicare for all, expansion of Medicare or expansion of the Affordable Care Act.

Cobb said the government should negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies.

Kahn said U.S. tax dollars paid for a lot of the research that went into making the drugs. She has called for a NASA-type government organization to fund development of new drugs. She wants to give the federal government authority to take control of drug patents and reassign them if the company is not making the drug available at a reasonable cost. She would support any laws that make it easier to re-import lower-price medication.

Closing argument

Kahn said people want an alternative.

“Most people believe the two-party system is broken and only a third party, an independent Green, can move us in the right direction,” she said.

Cobb said her campaign has momentum.

“That momentum is about our shared vision for the district. This isn’t about me. It’s about us. It’s about having a congressperson who cares about us. I’m hoping you will choose me to be that congressperson,” she said.

All three candidates will be participating in three upcoming studio debates — on Oct. 23 at Mountain Lakes PBS in Plattsburgh; on Oct. 29 at Spectrum News in Albany; and on Oct. 30 at WWNY in Watertown.

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