hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial September 2014



In race for Congress, little so far to inspire


For an object lesson in everything that’s wrong with our current political system, it’s hard to beat the video of Elise Stefanik’s press conference last month on Social Security and Medicare.
For those who missed it, Stefanik, the Republican candidate for an open seat in New York’s 21st Congressional District, invited reporters to an event Aug. 25 in front of the Glens Falls Senior Center, saying she wanted to rebut suggestions by her Democratic opponent, Aaron Woolf, that she wants to cut or privatize Medicare and Social Security.

The full video of the event, which was still on the Web site of Albany’s WNYT in early September, shows Stefanik delivering a prepared statement in which she repeatedly stresses her support for “these important programs.” She vows not to support any cuts or changes to Social Security and Medicare for people who are “in or near retirement.”

But when pressed on the details of her position, Stefanik just repeats the talking points from her prepared remarks.

And when a reporter asks the most obvious follow-up question – how does she define “near retirement” – Stefanik simply walks away, abruptly ending what her campaign had billed as a 30-minute press session after barely eight minutes.

Anyone can have a bad day, but as an exercise in campaign messaging, Stefanik’s press event surely backfired. By refusing to answer the question, the candidate left the distinct impression that she would support cuts to Social Security and Medicare for people who might not be very many years away from retirement.

Worse, the video shows a candidate who seems unwilling or unable to speak candidly and extemporaneously about one of the most important issues of the day. She could have explained the financial pressures Social Security and Medicare are expected to face in the years ahead – and outlined the range of solutions she’d support – but instead she hid behind platitudes and then ran off.

Woolf, the Democratic candidate, has avoided such an embarrassing moment so far, but only because he has been even less accessible to the press. When The Post-Star of Glens Falls recently published a detailed story about federal transportation issues and the candidates’ positions on them, for example, the paper reported that Woolf didn’t respond to interview requests over an eight-day period – and that the candidate wouldn’t take questions about transportation at a campaign event because he wasn’t accompanied by a professional spokesman.

So this is where we are: The two major-party candidates in one of the mostly hotly contested House races in the country apparently expect to wage their campaigns mainly through television ads while doing their best to avoid committing to anything that might prove controversial.
The third candidate in the race, Matt Funiciello of the Green Party, is by comparison a breath of fresh air, easily accessible and willing to discuss any issue. He responded to Stefanik’s debacle by saying he would ensure the future solvency of Social Security by raising the cap on annual incomes subject to Social Security payroll taxes from $117,000 to $250,000. You might disagree with him, but at least you know where he stands.

With two months to go before Election Day, let’s hope Stefanik and Woolf find the strength to break through their web of handlers and explain why they too deserve to be considered for the job.