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Together on One Zoom Screen, Congressional Candidates Make Their Cases

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By Barrett Seaman

More than 500 viewers tuned in to Thursday night’s League of Women Voters Zoom-based forum for the eight Democratic candidates for the 17th District Congressional seat currently held by Nita Lowey. Though it was marred marginally by some technical glitches, the two-hour event allowed the candidates to articulate their positions and qualifications in tight, one-minute segments.

Policy differences were few and largely linked to healthcare reform proposals, but the various candidate’s choices of issues they considered most important were enlightening.

There were early delays related to the muting and unmuting of each speaker’s microphones. More serious for White Plains Assemblyman David Buchwald was a repeated breaking up of his voice transmission that was never fully resolved.

The questions, all but two of which were curated from 57 submitted by viewers before the event, required more expansive responses than any of the candidates were able to fit into the 60-second slots mandated by the ground rules. The moderator, League member John Hessel from New Rochelle, was appropriately generous in allowing speakers to finish sentences before cutting them off.

There was universal agreement on the issues facing the next representative of District 17: cleaning up after Trump, acting on climate change, repealing Trump’s tax breaks for the rich, reforming healthcare and supporting marginalized communities. The two big issues specific to the district were restoring the deductibility of state and local taxes and safely decommissioning Indian Point. Also broadly endorsed was more direct and generous support of small businesses. Transportation, as in building a light rail system on the Mario Cuomo Bridge, also won broad support from the eight.

The fault line on healthcare was between those who support a sweeping Medicare-for-all approach to universal coverage and those who favor strengthening the Obamacare model with a robust public option, thus preserving consumer choice. Mondaire Jones was the most doctrinaire proponent of Medicare-for-all, with Catherine Parker more or less on his side. The closest the forum came to open dispute occurred when Jones called out State Senator David Carlucci for what he called his “sleight of hand” conflation of a “Medicare option,” when what Jones said Carlucci meant was the more moderate public option position.

Despite the constraints of “virtuality,” the forum did offer viewers a chance to see how the candidates handled themselves on their feet (though all appeared to be sitting down), and what differentiating image they wished to project in a rare opportunity to be seen together.

David Buchwald, technical glitches aside, still managed to convey his experience as a down-in-the-weeds legislative technician determined to “undo the damage Trump has done.” David Carlucci staked claim to being the most experienced as the senior elected official of the group. Asha Castleberry-Hernandez positioned herself as the impassioned champion of underserved communities. Evelyn Farkas repeatedly stressed her Washington experience, the one who had been in the Situation Room and could “hit the ground running.”

Allison Fine was the articulate champion of women and master of technology. Mondaire Jones carried the progressive banner, once held by Elizabeth Warren (who endorsed him). Catherine Parker conveyed an appealing warmth and concern—particularly about climate change. Adam Schleifer was the combative prosecutor ready to take on Trump.

Some novel ideas emerged from the session. Responding to a question about defense policy, Allison Fine predicted that “the next war is going to be cyber” and advocated bolstering the nation’s digital defense system—including for elections. “Code and data are the keys to power in the 21st century,” she said. Fine also proposed establishing a Department of Ecological Stewardship that would be responsible for future pandemic planning as well as climate change. Evelyn Farkas proffered a plan to issue personal protective equipment (PPE) as standard practice nationwide to every first responder. .

Whether voters get to see these candidates together again in person before June 23rd, depends on progress in reopening the state. There will be other virtual opportunities, including a forum focused on ecological concerns planned for this coming week.

The League of Women Voters of Westchester is also hosting a Westchester County District Attorney Forum on May 28, as well as for other primary contests, school and library boards. All will follow the same model as the May 21 Forum, which can be seen in its entirety on the League’s web site, www.lwvw.org.

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