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Handicapping New York’s 19th Congressional District Primary Race

By Larry Sakin  Posted by Joan Brunwasser (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   No comments
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The more I look at the various democratic candidates for US Congress, the more I question the effectiveness of the so-called "opposition party".

Now you may be wondering why this Arizona boy has chosen to cover a congressional district which represents most of the Hudson Valley. For some time, my home was in the Congressional 19th and it's a vital area to both New York State and the US. The Indian Point Nuclear Energy facility is located in Westchester, NY; about thirty five miles north of New York City. Much of the Hudson River estuary runs from Westchester County to Albany. The estuary is home to thousands of species habitats that help keep mid-state New York the incredibly beautiful area it is. Also, the 19th Congressional District is known for its incredible network of public and private colleges and universities.

The district is currently represented by Republican Sue Kelly, who has held the seat for the past six terms, and is running for her seventh. Kelly is moderate to conservative in her politics, but she has shown a great deal of loyalty to President Bush's foreign and domestic programs, and has also benefited greatly from the largesse provided by her Congressional mentor, Tom DeLay, the former House Majority Leader, who has been indicted on federal campaign financing violations. Kelly's support of the President and her association with DeLay has created some trouble for her in the Congressional 19th which traditionally votes republican. Kelly's refusal to answer questions about her loyalty to Bush and DeLay has left her seat vulnerable for a takeover by a strong Democrat candidate. But a quick assessment of the Democratic candidate's websites leaves me troubled about how vulnerable Kelly really is. My assessment is based on issues New Yorkers have claimed as vital to the country: The environment/energy policy, Iraq and security issues, health care, the economy, and education.

The first Democratic challenger, Judy Aydelott, is a medical malpractice attorney living in Katonah, a tony hamlet which makes up one third of the town of Bedford. Aydelott's website,, doesn't go into many details about her potential policies. She writes how the local environment needs to be preserved, and only mentions that 'something needs to be done' about health care and education. She writes briefly on energy policy: "Through creative investments and American ingenuity we can increase energy efficiency and develop new renewable energy sources from wind, sun and water and biomass. We must pass legislation to set fuel efficiency standards for American made motor vehicles to reduce consumption and to give incentives where it's needed - not to the big energy companies." Well yes, all those things are true. However, Aydelott doesn't really write very much here that President Bush hasn't already said. In an area where people's home heating bills increased over 200% last winter, Aydelott's vague notions must provide cold comfort.

Aydelott does a little better with her position on Iraq. "We must begin the process of bringing our brave men and women home. When they return, we must provide better health care benefits, including psychiatric care, and restore cuts to the GI bill and job retraining programs to help them return to lives we hope they can renew." On the economy, Aydelott writes: "We must balance our budget to get our fiscal house in order. We can start by adjusting the Bush/DeLay tax cut for the rich; by restoring caps on federal spending; by recalling the recently passed transportation bill to remove all the 'pork.'" Well, I'd hate to be Judy Aydelott when state officials start coming around her office to talk about how those funds were applied mostly to infrastructure reconstruction on federal highways that run through their states. Certainly there is a lot of pork in the federal budget; some of that money is used to make up for the loss of federal funding in other areas. I give her a grade of "C".

The next candidate is former soft rock singer John Hall (website:, one of the founding members of the '70's band Orleans. The musician and former county legislator has been extremely active in Hudson Valley activism over the last twenty years, and his current run for the Congressional 19th is the highest office he has sought. Hall is fairly vocal on a number of issues. On the Iraq War, Hall writes: "Now that we're in this mess, we should extricate our troops as quickly as possible by transferring control to a true multinational force as proposed by Thomas Barnett in his book "The Pentagon's New Map." If this administration is not willing to share contracts for rebuilding, give up decision making power to the U.N. or a true coalition of other nations during a transition, then I would vote for orderly but immediate withdrawal. Our continued presence there, combined with incidents of torture and accidental bombing or shooting of innocent Iraqis, is turning our traditional friends around the world against us and aiding the recruitment of our enemies." This is a pretty strong and comprehensive statement from the progressive democrat, one that isn't found often on other candidate's websites.

Hall also has a good plan on the environment/energy problems facing the district. Hall writes: "I propose we institute an Apollo-program or Marshall Plan equivalent commitment to conservation and alternative energy: solar, wind, hydroelectric, bio-diesel, geothermal, and old-fashioned efficiency.) We also need to raise CAFE standards. If Toyota and Honda can produce a car that gets 60 miles to the gallon, don't tell me Detroit can't. Government must mandate what CEO's refuse to do in the public interest; high standards and incentives will move consumers and companies, especially if government at all levels favors efficiency in their fleet vehicle purchases. And low-head hydroelectric sites, which number in the thousands in the Northeast alone, should be immediately utilized by installing turbines and indemnifying localities or private owners. Studies ranging from NSERDA in the 70's to the Idaho National Laboratory in 1998 show that untapped hydro sites in New York could make a significant dent in New York City's power demand. (>1200 megawatts - INL 1998) Massachusetts, according to a recent report, has more than four thousand low-head sites." On the environment, Hall continues: "We in the Hudson Valley are blessed with unparalleled environmental beauty. With the Hudson River as its centerpiece, the 19th District includes rolling farmland and woods, ridges and mountains, a network of underground aquifers, and wildlife from eagles to bear to sturgeon. We need to protect our air, soil and water not just for beauty and habitat, but to protect our health. And the environment knows no boundaries; we breathe air containing particulates from coal-fired power plants in the mid-West, we suffer from storms and temperature extremes made worse by global climate change, we all have measurable amounts of PCBs and radioisotopes in our bodies. Environment equals health. That's the short version of the equation in which we live. When our government allows increased mercury emissions (which the Bush EPA proposed), when they sell mining or logging rights on national forest land for a pittance (which they are doing), when they subsidize polluting industries while under funding clean, sustainable ones, they put our health and our children's health at risk. We are experiencing a cancer epidemic, along with an onslaught of other environmentally caused diseases including diabetes and emphysema."

Hall doesn't fare so well on health care, the economy or an education, though. He acknowledges the need to address these issues, but doesn't offer a plan to deal with any of them. He also receives a grade of "C".

James Martorano (website: is a former Yorktown, NY councilman and Deputy Supervisor making his first bid at federal office. Martorano proposes a Bill of Rights for the 21st Century, which includes meeting the health care needs of every citizen, ensuring retirement security for all, strengthening the schools, and ensuring rights to privacy. But Martorano is better at pointing out the obvious problems rather than letting people in on some of his solutions. He acknowledges many of the things that Rep. Kelly has had in making worse for the district, but if he has ideas on fixing them, he's keeping them well hidden. Martorano receives a "D".

Darren Rigger (website: is a little sketchy about a number of things. Rigger doesn't tell us what his current employment situation is, only that his first job out of college was at the DNC under the tutelage of the late Ron Brown, and that he's worked the campaigns of various democratic candidates including former NY Governor Mario Cuomo, and NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Rigger has decorated his website with pictures of himself and his parents with former president Bill Clinton, and also has a picture of his wife Katria, Patrick Kennedy, and himself. That's all very sweet, but Rigger, like Martorano, doesn't address specific issues affecting the district or the country. He acknowledges how bad Kelly is, but offers no solutions. Sorry, Darren, I have to give you a "D".

High School for Public Service principal and founder Ben Shuldiner is also taking the plunge in the 19th. Shuldiner is a Jefferson Award winner for his efforts in education. His main strength in the campaign is issues involving the same. Shuldiner writes: "Sue Kelly, along with the Republican-led Congress and the Bush Administration, is bankrupting our public school system. No Child Left Behind has placed a tremendous burden on schools in the Hudson Valley. While I support increased accountability and improved performance, unfunded mandates are not the solution. As a principal and a teacher, I understand the needs of children in our public schools. As Representative from the 19th District, I will ensure that our schools have the funds needed to provide our children with the education they deserve." Amen to that.

However, Shuldiner is a bit more unfocused on other issues. On the Iraq War, Shuldiner writes: "While the Republicans in Congress were willing to send our troops into a prolonged conflict, they remain unwilling to fully fund their needs, such as armor and weapons, leaving our soldiers vulnerable. I will ensure that our troops have the supplies they need to safely and successfully secure Iraq. The Bush Administration, supported by Sue Kelly, has failed to train Iraqi troops leaving Iraq unstable and incapable of self-sufficiency. I will support efforts to train the Iraqi Army and police forces faster. Specifically, I support establishing identifiable targets with which we can objectively measure the progress in the training of Iraqi Army and police forces. Developing this form of oversight will help ensure we are moving towards a democratic and secure Iraq." Perhaps I'm misreading Shuldiner, but it seems like he's in favor of continuing down the path of occupation, even if on a short term basis. Considering the public's sentiment about that conflict, I don't think a democratic candidate will receive a good response with the "we can do Iraq better" strategy. Shuldiner mentions healthcare, but is pretty vague about how to change the issue for the better. He mentions energy as well, but only from a standpoint of national security. He wants to protect the Indian Point nuclear plant from future terrorist attacks. That's okay, but it really doesn't address the dire heating oil problems in the area. On the environment and economy, Shuldiner is mute. I'm tempted to give Shuldiner a "D", but his education plan is so good, I'm willing to grade him on the curve. He gets a "C".

Rounding out our list of candidates is another educator, Gary Suraci ( Suraci is a principal for the Ulster County BOCES career and tech center, and is also on the adjunct faculty for SUNY Oswego. Suraci lives in Wappingers Falls, a very conservative village of Dutchess County. Like Shuldiner, he has some very progressive views about education. Suraci writes: "Unfunded mandates require schools to increase spending to finance those mandates. No Child Left Behind, or as I call it, Every Child Dragged Along, is just that, another unfunded mandate. It requires testing of all students from 4th grade on up. If schools don't meet the federal guidelines, they lose funding. Poorer school districts have more trouble meeting these standards, so they lose their funding. To make up for this loss of funding, districts have to raise local property taxes. In addition, the individual states have to pay for the tests and for grading them. School districts are so hard pressed to have students pass the exam, they teach to the test, accomplishing nothing! Rich districts have smaller class sizes, newer textbooks, better facilities and better equipment. They have no problem meeting Federal NCLB requirements. They get more of the funding pie, so the rich get richer. I will stop at nothing to change this; fair and equitable means fair and equitable for the rich, middle class, or poor. Our kids deserve the right to a quality education, just like the children of the wealthy."

On the Iraq War, Suraci makes his support for the troops clear, but adds: "Now it's time to withdraw our troops and do so before any more young men and women die or are permanently maimed. I can not and will not vote for any war that is meant to foster the interests of selfish businessmen or wealthy American individuals. National security starts at home with border security, port security, and airline security. We cannot be the world's policemen. We need to make intelligent choices based on factual and accurate information so that our military is utilized to protect our citizens and country when danger is imminent. We have to use diplomacy with the international community so that we are not perceived as the bullies and thugs of the world. We need to protect every citizen and not only go about protecting the wealthy investor's interests and businesses." While Suraci's approach is a tad too militaristic for me, I admire the stand he takes on pulling the troops. Having lived in Wappingers Falls, I can say that this will be a bitter pill for the citizens there to swallow, and Suraci deserves praise for speaking out in an area that resists the notion of America not finishing a battle it started. Where Suraci fails is in not addressing economic, energy/environmental or health care issues that are on the minds of his constituents and the American people in general. For his principled stances on both Iraq and education though, I'll give him a "C" as well.

As we get closer to the September primary election, these candidates will become more acute in addressing issues that concern the voters. Rep. Kelly has a strong following in parts of the 19th, but I think with a little more devotion to courage on the part of the democratic contenders, Kelly will have a run for her (and Tom DeLay's) money come November.

Larry Sakin is a former music executive and medical non-profit administrator. He has published a number of articles in both fields and is currently writing a book about coping with loss. More of his work can be found on,, and Charlotte's Other Web.
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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