Written by Bryce A. Eckwall, edited and packaged by Aiyana Edmund and Matthew Apuzzo
Helping small business, renewable energy, education and health care are among the Democrats’ shared priorities
Six Democratic candidates debated at SUNY New Paltz on Wednesday to determine who will challenge Republican John Faso for the 19th Congressional District’s seat.
The forum was hosted at an auditorium in the college’s Lecture Center, which was packed with local residents and students who shared a vocal disdain for the former assemblyman and Kinderhook native John Faso.
The potential Democratic challengers — Jeff Beals, Antonio Delgado, Brian Flynn, Gareth Rhodes, David Clegg and Pat Ryan — took their places at the forum, which was hosted by The New Paltz Oracle, SUNY New Paltz College Democrats, Move Forward New York, the Gardiner Democratic Committee, NYPIRG and the New Paltz Democratic Committee.
The event was moderated by The Oracle’s editor-in-chief, Melanie Zerah, and New Paltz Deputy Town Supervisor Dan Torres, who fielded questions from the audience, opening a public discussion for the candidates.
The six candidates shared a goal of ousting Faso, the freshman congressman who has aligned himself closely with the goals of the Trump administration. While the candidates will be fighting for the votes of their hometowns and the communities across the district’s eleven counties, they are united in stopping the Republican agenda.
Jeff Beals, a former US-Iraq diplomat, CIA officer and the current apparent frontrunner, opened the debate by suggesting that the district needs a candidate who aligns with its communities’ overall goals. After his service overseas, Beals returned to the Hudson Valley and became a teacher.
“I realized that we needed a candidate that could stand up as a working member of the community. I’m the only candidate who … is working in a two-income family here in the district to raise a family on the meager wages that we are all facing in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills.” – Jeff Beals
Beals claimed to have raised the most grassroots campaign contributions. However, the Schenectady-born Antonio Delgado corrected him, claiming that his own hard work and commitment earned him the lead in campaign contributions. A Harvard-graduate lawyer residing in Rhinebeck with his family, Delgado touted his progressive ideas on health care and climate change as an inspiration to others.
Most of the six candidates planned to create jobs through renewable energy. Pat Ryan, an Iraq War veteran and small business owner, promised to increase environmental protection and use of renewable energy resources if elected. A Kingston native, Ryan also shared his attachment to the area and the scenic Hudson Valley.
The candidates also shared the goal of fixing the American healthcare system by insuring the citizens of District 19 and the entire United States through a revised Affordable Care Act. But the prospective candidates are most determined to dethrone Faso and fight the Trump administration’s agenda.
“We need to resist what Donald Trump is doing, getting us into a nuclear war with his Twitter account. We need to resist. We need to replace John Faso, and I believe I am the best candidate to do that,” said candidate Gareth Rhodes, a former aide to Governor Cuomo residing in Ulster County.
Rhodes, the youngest of the six, founded his campaign on the trust that individual donations of $19 would give him the homegrown appeal of a people’s champ. Rhodes put his Harvard law degree on hold to run for office and to “repeal and replace John Faso.”
Meanwhile, candidate David Clegg targeted the Trump administration for its ties to the fossil fuel industry. Clegg, a Kingston lawyer, built his campaign platform on tackling injustice and what he calls “greedy” corporations.
“Congress right now is controlled by the fossil fuel industry. If you look at Donald Trump’s cabinet, they are almost all connected to the fossil fuel industry,” Clegg said. “What we have right now is a government that is perpetuating the fossil fuel industry at the cost of not only all of us in America, but all of us in the world. Because to squeeze the last ounce of profit out of the fossil fuel industry, they are choking us.”
Brian Flynn spoke to the room’s voters about his Greene County roots and government experience. He discussed a proactive plan to move forward and build an economy dependent on small businesses. Flynn believes his local connections will win over voters and get the congressional seat in the hands of Democrats.
“There is nothing more essential to self-worth than the dignity of work, than the pride that comes from a decent job and a decent paycheck, and we as the Democratic Party can once again be the party of the American worker,” said Flynn. “But it’s going to take bold, big ideas because we must create the America that works for all of us, not just the few.”
Flynn answered a student-submitted question on college tuition by sharing his plan for loan forgiveness. He said that lowering the cost of college is a reasonable investment in America’s future, and that the sheer number of students with debt calls for a government bailout similar to those given to banks and car manufacturers.
Flynn’s ideas about education were paralleled by Delgado, who called education “the great equalizer.”
“Education is something that we have to get back to prioritizing in this country. I cannot underscore enough how critical it was in my household,” Delgado said, “It was framed as the great equalizer, the gateway to opportunity and I certainly seized every opportunity.”