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Doheny, Owens clash in TV debate

October 27, 2010
By NATHAN BROWN, Enterprise Staff Writer

PLATTSBURGH - Bill Owens supports public funding of elections. Matt Doheny does not.

Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said in a taped debate with Republican opponent Matt Doheny at Mountain Lake PBS's studio Wednesday that he supports the Fair Elections Now Act. The bill would allow congressional candidates who get enough small contributions to qualify for public funding. He said this would "get under control contributions by all types of lobbyists."

Owens said this in a response to a question from panelist Susan Arbetter, news and public affairs director at Syracuse's WCNY-TV, asking how voters could know Owens and Doheny are independent when they have received so much campaign cash from public-employee unions and Wall Street, respectively.

Article Photos

Matt Doheny, left, and Bill Owens debate Wednesday at the Mountain Lakes PBS studio in Plattsburgh.
(Enterprise photo — Nathan Brown)

Doheny, a Watertown portfolio manager who worked on Wall Street for years, answered by saying that he is his own biggest contributor, having loaned $1.69 million of his own money to his campaign, and that many of his Wall Street donors were friends of his.

"I'm putting my neck on the line, my reputation and my money on the line, to make sure that we have a better life," Doheny said.

Doheny said he opposes public funding.

Fact Box

The debate will be aired on Mountain Lakes PBS at the following times:

8 p.m. Thursday

5:30 a.m. and noon Friday

7 p.m. Saturday

5:30 and 10 a.m. Sunday.

The debate will also remain available at

"He wants us to pay for his re-election campaign," Doheny said. "He's one more reason we need term limits; I'll tell you that."

This debate was the third between Owens and Doheny and the last before the Nov. 2 election. One of the major themes of the debate, which will air on public television stations throughout New York's 23rd Congressional District Thursday evening, is the two candidates' differing views of the role of government. In answering many questions, Owens said government could play a positive role in encouraging economic development. For example, in answering a question about job creation, Owens said he had talked to small business owners throughout the district, and they have said targeted tax credits would help them expand.

Doheny said he has also been talking to many small business owners, and he's been hearing, "'Just make sure I have a low tax rate, and get out of the way.'" He said Owens answered too many questions by saying "what's he going to do, or what the government's going to do," when the government should step back.

Doheny has cited the 9.6 percent unemployment rate as evidence that Democratic policies aren't working. In answering a question about tax cuts, Owens said that rate represents an uptick in private-sector employment but a fall in public-sector employment.

"My opponent, along with most Republicans, wants a smaller government," Owens said. "Well, you can't have it both ways."

Doheny favors extending all of the Bush-era tax cuts; Owens favors extending some of them, but not all of them for the higher brackets. Doheny has said the underemployment rate is 17 percent and that businesses nationwide have about $2 trillion to invest that they won't, due to uncertainity about what their tax rates will be on Jan. 1.

Owens said extending the cuts to the higher brackets would add $700 billion to the deficit over 10 years, and that the administration of Republican President George W. Bush turned the surpluses of President Clinton's terms into deficits.

"There is no indication the Republicans have any type of a plan to effectively and rationally cut the national deficit and debt," Owens said.

Doheny said that Democrats, with Owens' support, have expanded government control, spent too much and need to be reined in. He said Owens voted with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "93 percent of the time, and 100 percent of the time when it matters," using Pelosi's name about 20 times in less than an hour.

Owens voted with the majority of his party 93 percent of the time and with Pelosi personally 85 percent, according to the website Open Congress. He countered in the debate that he ranked in the bottom 12 percent of Democrats for party loyalty, citing a Watertown Daily Times blog post. Open Congress lists only one New York Democrat in the House with a lower party loyalty rate - Rep. Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, at 91 percent. Two others share the 93 percent rate.

Both candidates' histories before they came into Congress also came up throughout the debate. Owens touted his 33 years of living in Plattsburgh before running for Congress, his work helping Canadian companies moving to Clinton and Franklin counties, and his community involvement, such as serving on the Adirondack Arc and chamber of commerce boards and his involvement in local ballet and Little League baseball.

"What I bring is both a history of job creation in the community and a history of community service," Owens said.

Doheny scoffed at Owens' job-creation claims.

"He hasn't been out there creating jobs," Doheny said. "He's been doing what lawyers do."

Doheny, for his part, characterized his work on Wall Street as saving jobs by helping turn around troubled companies. He spent most of his opening statement addressing attack ads about his work on Wall Street, some calling him a "millionaire foreign banker," that Owens' campaign and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have been running.

"I'm not from Wall Street; I'm from 65 High St. in Alex Bay," Doheny said. "My mother still lives in the house I grew up in."

Owens said Doheny's Wall Street contributions indicate he "wants to go back to the policies of the Bush administration."

Owens and Doheny agreed on little, except that they both think further affirmative-action legislation is unnecessary and they both look for a balance between security and free movement at the U.S.-Canadian border. Moderator Thom Hallock said at the end of the debate that the two present voters with a "clear choice."

The other panelists were Jack LaDuke, a reporter for Mountain Lake PBS who has been covering the North Country for about 40 years, and Myra Decker, president of the League of Women Voters.

Owens used to host a television show for Mountain Lake PBS and has moderated debates there before. He was also the station's lawyer until he ran for Congress. His wife, Jane, is director of education and outreach for the station, but Hallock said she plays no role in the news department, which arranged the debate.


Contact Nathan Brown at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or



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