Candidates square off in forum

Published Oct 17, 2018 at 11:58am

Candidates for the 22nd Congressional district tried to outline their positions — including their differences — this morning in a debate at the Beeches, hosted by the Rome Area Chamber of Commerce and the Professional and Business Women of Rome.

It was the first of three debates scheduled between incumbent Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, and state Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica.

Both candidates were given two minutes for opening remarks before fielding specific questions.

Brindisi spoke first, pledging to work across the aisle, if elected, and to be a “representative in Congress who does not look for ways to try to divide people.”

Tenney’s opening remarks emphasized her ties to the community and promised to “continue to fight” for small business, touting her support for the Republican tax cuts signed into law last year.

Both candidates were asked what they would do in Congress to protect the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), the Department of Defense’s civilian financial management agency with a location at Griffiss park in Rome, where it employs about 965 people.

The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by President Trump in August and voted for by Rep. Tenney, includes language calling for a review of whether DFAS’s duties could be better performed by “military” or “commercial” providers.

“Actually, we did fight for DFAS,” she said in response to the debate moderator. “We put in a special amendment under the (NDAA) ... that would save DFAS,” she continued.

For his part, Brindisi noted that he had been endorsed by the union representing Rome DFAS employees, and that he would “continue to work together to protect DFAS” should he be elected.

The second question probed how the candidates would “slow and preferably stop the loss of jobs form New York to other regions of the nation.”

Brindisi responded that, in his experiences speaking with employers, the New York 22nd had many jobs without qualified applicants to fill them. He indicated he would support vocational and trade school oriented policies to address this.

Tenney responded by saying that Brindisi’s solutions called for government spending. She called for “the business community to fund these programs through growth,” and again pledged to lessen regulations.

On the perennial issue of immigration, the candidates differed.

Tenney blamed Democrats in the House for the lack of progress on the issue in her first term. “We’ve put forth numerous bills ... and could not get a single Democrat to support us,” she said. She also pointed to her involvement with “bringing the Bosnian refugees to this region.”

Brindisi said that Tenney’s campaign advertisement had mischaracterized his stance on the issue, and said he supported a “tough but fair” border policy. He said that, despite campaign messaging, he did not support abolishing Immigrations an Customs Enforcement nor “giving all sorts of benefits” to undocumented immigrants.

On the topics of social security and medicare, Brindisi said he “support(ed) social security and medicare, and said he agreed with President Trump’s 2016 campaign talking point of allowing medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. He claimed that Tenney’s support for the failed 2017 GOP American Healthcare Act (AHCA) was tied to her campaign donations from healthcare providers.

Tenney called Brindisi’s answer to the question “a word salad of lies,” accusing Brindisi of using “talking points” from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and billionaire George Soros. She defended her campaign receipts by noting that Brindisi has received donations from labor unions — which are treated similarly under federal campaign finance law — and said that Brindisi supported “a government takeover of healthcare” during his state Assembly tenure.

Both candidates will appear on 22nd district voters’ ballots on Nov. 6. To find your voter registration status, your polling place, or to learn about absentee voting, visit