PLATTSBURGH - The two candidates for New York's 23rd District congressional seat who showed up at a debate at SUNY Plattsburgh Wednesday used their opening statements to define the differences between them.
Democratic and Working Families Party candidate Bill Owens said Republican and Independence candidate Dede Scozzafava favors the "failed Bush economic policies," which he blamed for causing the current recession and increasing the federal deficit. Scozzafava said she favors reducing government spending, regulation and taxes to allow the economy grow.
Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman did not attend the debate, a "glaring fact" moderator and North Country Public Radio Adirondack Bureau Chief Brian Mann called attention to in his introductory remarks. Mann said he had reached out to Hoffman's campaign repeatedly to get him to attend, and Hoffman was in Plattsburgh earlier Wednesday for campaign events. Mann said he spoke to Hoffman in person that afternoon, and Hoffman said he wasn't going to take part, not giving a reason. Hoffman held a "telephone town hall" at 7 p.m. Wednesday, sponsored by the state Right to Life Committee.
Democratic congressional candidate Bill Owens (center) and Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava debate in the E. Glenn Giltz auditorium at SUNY Plattsburgh Wednesday evening. At left is an empty podium for Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman, who did not attend.
(Enterprise photo — Nathan Brown)
Scozzafava and Owens agreed on a number of things during the debate - both candidates are in favor of repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy which bars homosexuals from serving openly in the military. They also both opposed public financing of campaigns, saying people should have a right to contribute to candidates they support, even though Scozzafava, who has been outspent by her two opponents, said she has "definitely felt the impact of big money working against me." And they discussed job creation, as they have frequently throughout the race.
"My opponent and I have the same goal," Scozzafava said. "We want jobs."
The debate was sponsored by the Plattsburgh chapter of United University Professions, the SUNY Plattsburgh Student Association and the Plattsburgh-area League of Women Voters. Mann and SUNY Plattsburgh Student Association President Lindsay Lyons moderated, and both the moderators and members of the audience asked questions. Numerous local and national media outlets covered the debate.
Seats were reserved in the first few rows for all three campaigns; the signs identifying the seats reserved for Hoffman were removed just before the debate started.
Another debate, sponsored by Syracuse's News10Now and planned for last Monday, was canceled when Hoffman's campaign said the day before that he would not be attending. Owens' campaign never had committed to this debate and also said they would not be able to attend. All three candidates have said they will attend a debate in Syracuse today, at WSYR Newschannel 9's studio. The debate will be posted on its Web site, www.9wsyr.com.
Scozzafava, who has been calling for more debates, said Wednesday she has accepted every forum invitation and decried the influence of groups from outside the district, which have been buying advertising for the candidates. She said she wished "we could all answer questions together, instead of being inundated with 30-second commercials that are spreading and telling lies."
The candidates gave different answers to a question about Border Patrol checkpoints inside the U.S. and the now-tighter regulations to cross between the U.S. and Canada. People have needed passports to enter the U.S. from Canada since June 1, and Canada has responded with the same requirement to go there. Owens said he thought the regulations were appropriate for security reasons, and "we've adjusted to the relatively reasonable requirements."
Scozzafava said she thought the regulations had gone too far and risked interfering with cross-border ties and commerce, giving the example of fishermen who get hassled when fishing near the border.
"They're our neighbors," Scozzafava said of Canada. "They're our trading partners. They're our friends."
Owens didn't say whether he supported Gen. Stanley McChrystal's call for 44,000 more troops in Afghanistan, saying he would need "in-depth information I don't have access to right now." Scozzafava said more troops should be sent over if the commanders say they need them to carry out the mission, which hasn't changed.
"The president not being able to make a decision - this risks the lives of everyone there," Scozzafava said.
Owens said new technologies could help reduce the problem of manure runoff from dairy farms into bodies of water like Lake Champlain. Scozzafava said dairy farmers, who are struggling with milk prices that are less than half of their production costs, can't afford anything new.
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