It's Groundhog Day for political junkies in New York's 23rd Congressional District, as Southern Tier Republican Rep. Tom Reed again battles Democratic challenger Tracy Mitrano, whom he beat with 54% of the vote two years ago.
It's a complicated district: rural, Republican, white and filled with farms. At the same time, it has a world-renowned high-tech center in Reed's home town of Corning and educational excellence at Cornell University and Ithaca College. It also has serious economic problems, made worse by COVID-19.
Both candidates say economic development is vital. Reed said a vaccine for COVID is the key to turning the economy around.
"Prior to COVID-19, we were seeing a rebirth of American manufacturing in the district. We were seeing economic indicators in the agricultural community with the negotiation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, now being signed and coming into existence. We saw an economic expansion that was taking hold in the district, with holding China accountable and giving us access to that market," Reed said.
Mitrano left a future running the family restaurant in Rochester, eventually to go for a PhD and law degree and college teaching in History and Cyber-Security to commit to a long-term campaign against Reed. She said the opportunities exist.
"People come here to go to our wonderful institutions of learning and then they go someplace else for the jobs. We can change that," Mitrano said. "Look, Ithaca has a good economy. Corning has a good economy. Corning has advanced manufacturing, which is where we need to go. We need 21st-century jobs. We need the education for it. We need the pipeline through our community colleges. I support, by the way, up to a two-year degree to be supported by federal, state and local funds."
Attending higher education can be very expensive, something Reed said he knows from experience, with $110,000 in loans when he graduated from Alfred University.
"We can't subsidize those college costs and think that college costs are gonna go down. We need to hold these guys accountable for saying, 'Why are you charging $70,000 a year to have a child go to college or a university like Syracuse University or Harvard?' That's ridiculous," he said. "You gotta start putting some sunshine on these guys and asking, 'Where are these dollars going?'"
Mitrano said she gave up a job that pays more than Congress to make her first run against Reed and this race. She said this is a struggle for the nation's soul and the rule of money.
"There's too much money in Congress and in the federal government, state government as well. There are no controls on it," she said. "We have congressmen like Reed who are bought and sold by corporate PACs and you have a district -- whether it's farmers or working people -- who have had no help from this congressman in 10 years and it's time for them to think very seriously what they need and want, and if he hasn't gotten it in 10 years, he's not about to get it in the next term."
Reed said he is a problem solver who can work across party lines, even when Democrats control the House of Representatives. Polls suggest they will keep that hold starting in January.
Watch the only debate between Reed and Mitrano below, courtesy of public radio's WSKG in Syracuse: