On June 22, 2016, candidate Steve Wells appeared in a live chat format sponsored by Syracuse.com. Scheduled to start at noon, some 16 people checked into the website to ask questions of the NY-22 Republican candidate. Most were disappointed, as Steve Wells ignored and avoided the majority of questions asked of him.
Of the 41 questions that were asked (not including at least 4 questions that the moderator Mark Weiner deleted that we observed) only 15 received some form of answer, most were repeat questions from the same individual. The nature of the questions answered can be summed up in the following quoted question:
Mr. Wells, is it true that you are actually a world skeet champion? If so, wow that’s impressive!”
The result was that virtually all substantive questions, including 7 by Michael Vasquez, went unanswered. The following is the exact quote of what was reported on the event on June 22, 2016 in realtime while the event was ongoing:
“So to be fair, after waiting an hour and being skipped until I started posting on Facebook, Mr. Wells answered my first question
“Mr. Wells, you consistently state you have an “A” rating with the NRA, but that is factually incorrect as you have an “Aq” rating as the NRA website shows – along with endorsement of Claudia Tenney. Can you explain why you continue to misstate this in advertisements and debates?”
SteveWells 2 minutes ago
@MVass The reason the NRA gives out the endorsement of Aq is because I am not a politician, unlike my opponents, I have not run for office before. I have the highest rating someone who has not held political office can get from the NRA. I might point out to you that Assemblywoman Tenney did not achieve an A+, which is the highest rating from the NRA that an elected official can receive.
My response –
“MVass 1 minute ago
@SteveWells @MVass That does not answer the question I asked. You do not have an “A” rating. Isn’t this misleading.
Facebook post comment: Michael Vasquez – Since the event is over, and Mr. Wells never replied back (though he is welcome to as he has my number and email) I am left with the thought that Mr. Wells is ok with misleading the public on facts he knows to be untrue. There is your hopeful congressman for you”
Thus we concluded, and provide for the public how candidate Steve Wells approaches his constituents. Whether that is the proper way to address concerns or not, is up to voters on June 28, 2016.
Originally written at the Binghamton Political Buzz, by Michael “Vass” Vasquez on June 21, 2016.
Polls are not elections. Just a snapshot at a given moment of the views of a group of people at any given moment. There is no question that the majority of people place a great deal of weight behind any poll. Thus for many pundits, one of the most predictive tools is what polls are saying, especially if there is a trend. Given that outlook, what does this say about the NY 22nd congressional primary on June 28, 2016?
Initially there was just the poll from the Claudia Tenney campaign. That poll, in April 2016, showed a landslide victory for Tenney, leading 48% to just 13% for George Phillips and 9% for Steve Wells. This poll was done before the negative ads of the Grow the Economy SuperPAC began to flood mailboxes and airwaves.
The impact of mud-slinging ads in elections is historic. According to Wesleyan Media Project, negative ads in elections have grown from 29% in 2000 to just over 65% in 2012. That trend shows no sign of faltering. In fact, if Grow the Economy (GtE) SuperPAC is any example, the Presidential race is sure to be almost singularly negative. Suffice to say that the GtE’s $580,000 anyone-but-Tenney attack ads have been effective. According to a June 14, 2016 poll, Claudia Tenney was at 32%, Steve Wells at 31%, and George Phillips remained at 13%. Though part of the cost for such results has been the fact that 20% blame Steve Wells for the negativity in the race.
But then Claudia Tenney was endorsed by the NRA. A coveted endorsement, as all 3 candidates had insisted they were the best defender of the 2nd Amendment. With that endorsement, in the face of the massive GtE mud-slinging, Citizen’s United conducted its own poll.
This is the most recent poll released on June 21, 2016. That poll showed Claudia Tenney at 38%, Steve Wells at 26%, and George Phillips continues to trail with just 11%. But it was taken just mere days after the June 14th poll, and a day after the NRA endorsement. Could polls shift so quickly? Unlikely in this race. Then what is the answer in the difference?
The difference in the polls are in part who was asked, and how they were reached. Some polls focused on people without cell phones, others included Democrats and Independents. But neither the difference in the poll numbers, nor who the data was compiled from are as important as the trend being shown. That trend survives all criteria and negative ads.
Since before the NY-22 race began in earnest, Claudia Tenney was identified as the candidate to beat. It was in November 2015 that Daily Kos singled out Tenney as the candidate Democrats had to fear.
“Tenney only lost the 2014 primary to Hanna by 7 points, and Tenney could do better if the groups that sat the last primary out come to her aide.”
Also, name recognition is vital in elections. It’s why Steve Wells led the candidates in getting out his ads first. He was the first to advertise on Facebook, and sent some 5 mailings across the district at a cost of around $25,000 for his first 48 days in the race. This compares to the $1,863 of advertisements and mailings for George Phillips in his first 99 days campaigning. For Claudia Tenney the cost since November 2015 was $1,699. In fact, according to the FEC records, Steve Wells has outspent his opponents combined, by double, to gain name recognition to the extent he has it.
Yet, at no point in the primary race has Tenney not been considered the favorite. A fact proven by GtE’s desperate and expensive attack-only approach. Further proven by the news media coverage. It is further amplified by the fact that Tenney holds, according to the most recent poll, a mere 11% unknown. Steve Wells comes in next with almost triple the numbers at 29%, George Phillips leads the candidates with the highest unknown at a massive 52%. Voters generally know who is in the race, even if they haven’t decided how to vote. In fact, according to the Liberty Opinion Research poll, voters polled are sure of the results
“Who do you expect to win the congressional primary regardless of who you intend to vote for?
Claudia Tenney 30%
Steven Wells 24%
George Phillips 8%
Not Sure 38%”
When our analysis of the Presidential race is added to the trend of the polling data we see a bigger trend emerge. As reflected nationally, for Republicans in New York State, the establishment candidate loses to the political outsider. Donald Trump beat Sen. Cruz and Gov. Kasich combined. Claudia Tenney in April, and again in June (according to the latest poll), beats Steve Wells and George Phillips combined.
Does that mean the Claudia Tenney will win the NY-22 primary? Not necessarily. Trends in polls are not always how voters vote. Negative ads do affect voters – which is why they have gained popularity – but they also hurt the candidate that uses them. Candidate performances in debates can sway voters on critical issues, like the Time Warner Cable News debate on the Trans Pacific Partnership question. Finally, last minute endorsements, like the NRA, can shift critical groups of voters in a single announcement.
The only clear statements that can be made is that all polls thus far confirm the view at the start of this congressional race. Claudia Tenney is the frontrunner. Voters know her name. Plus, it takes a ton of money to fight those 2 facts.
Ultimately it is up to voters, not pundits nor negative ads or polls, to decide if those are reasons to take Claudia Tenney, or potentially one of her opponents, to the general election with Democrat Kim Myers in November.
Published at the Binghamton Political Buzz, by Michael “Vass” Vasquez on June 20, 2016.
As the nation continues to react to the Orlando shooting, the Supreme Court and Congress are equally taking action over the 2nd Amendment and gun restriction. While most eyes in the nation are focused on the latest interactions of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, with a few fixated on congressional primary races, actions are on-going that may well define rights in the nation for decades to come. Yet, all of these factors are connected, interdependent, and potentially a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It was May 2016, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that the Right to bear arms mandates the right to buy and sell firearms. In essence, the decision states that the State cannot act in a way to prevent a core Right from being exercised. For many, this signaled some of the strongest protections to the 2nd Amendment since the Supreme Court decision of District of Columbia v. Heller. But then in June 2016, the same Court ruled that the right to conceal carry was something that States could restrict. The two cases demonstrate part of the confusion when discussion of the 2nd Amendment is brought up.
The question, which seems destined to be presented to the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in the near-term, is how far does the 2nd Amendment go in protecting the constitutional Rights of Americans? This question takes many forms, the most present of which is the thought of gun bans or “assault weapons” bans currently being proposed in the wake of the Orlando, Florida shooting and watchlists to deny gun ownership. As has consistently happened after each publicized mass shooting, emotional need to feel safe has driven calls to restrict certain types of firearms and increased means to deny ownership, creating a battlefield over the 2nd Amendment.
But this debate is beyond just the Supreme Court. Due to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, the Court currently is helmed by 8 Justices. The Heller decision was a close 5-4 decision with Justice Scalia being a major factor. It is a fair argument that without his presence the Court is divided, and thus the next President will nominate the deciding vote in the Supreme Court. That new Justice will therefore decide the direction of the nation in regard to gun control and the 2nd Amendment potentially for decades to come. Until that time, SCOTUS appears to be unwilling to address the question, as the rejection of consideration of a gun control law in Connecticut on June 20, 2016 seems to indicate.
Yet, even as the weight of the future of firearms and constitutional Rights presses on the presidential candidates, Congress is also on the move. Pressed to action by the President’s call on June 14, 2016, for “assault weapons” bans renewed interest in terror watchlists has led to HR 1076 being considered again. The Bill, that is supported by just 3 Republicans (2 of which are from New York) and 114 Democrats (16 of which added their voices after the Orlando shooting), has “moderates” such as Rep. Richard Hanna interested. But the Republicans planning to replace Rep. Hanna do not share his interest.
“Our rights and the need to protect ourselves must be our focus, not exploiting the tragedy by calling for more gun control. Unfortunately, the usual anti-gun politicians want to diminish the right of self-protection guaranteed under the Second Amendment.”
George Phillips, a teacher seeking his first election win in his third attempt at a congressional seat, added his concerns on the issue,
“The terror watchlist is very imprecise and has over 1 million names on it. The overwhelming majority of people on this list are not actual terrorists, and can’t be denied constitutional rights due to vague information that landed them on the list.”
Steve Wells, a business owner and political donor to Gov. Cuomo, also had comment on this proposed Bill,
“This is the reason given around the world by oppressive regimes to deny their people basic freedom.”
But more in line with Rep. Hanna, the only Democrat seeking to replace him, Broome County Legislator Kim Myers, stated that,
“We need common sense solutions to solve the gun violence problem, not gridlock.”
Of course the core question that is foremost is who is placed on terrorist watchlists? Based on news reports Facebook posts and Tweets – which could not be used to investigate the San Bernadino and Orlando terrorist shooters – could be enough. Or someone could write in concerns to a government agency. Or you could just be part of a category of people targeted by the government, such as the Homeland Security emphasis on Christian veterans who support the 2nd Amendment via social media. In fact just knowing such a person of interest, even on social media only, could be justification of being placed on the watchlists. Obviously these no-fly, terror, and other watchlists are secret, and there is no credible confirmed known number of Americans that may be on a watchlist at this time, though members of Congress and DHS have been on such lists in the past.
With claims of over 1 million Americans on some form of watchlist, and the push to deny those on such secret lists access to firearms, the likelihood of a a lawsuit reaching the Supreme Court is high. Bringing the discussion full circle. From the Presidential, to congressional, and even in multiple States, the issue of what the Second Amendment guarantees and allows – and who should be restricted as well as how – continues to be an emotional issue for some. In 2017 and beyond, the nation may see defining rulings based on who is elected to Congress, the laws those members create, and whom the newly-elected President picks to evaluate the constitutionality of those laws.
Published on June 18, 2016 at the Binghamton Political Buzz, by Michael “Vass” Vasquez.
It was nearly a year ago that the New York State political map was thrown for a loop. A special election for the New York 52nd State Senate seat would be needed, as Tom Libous would lose his trial, and with it his decades old position. In the furor that ensued, Gov. Cuomo selected the Democrat candidate – Barbara Fiala. Republicans would sift through a host of candidates, picking what seemed at the time to be an unlikely choice in then-Undersheriff Fred Akshar. But the 2 parties would not be alone in striving to compete for the race. The Libertarian Party would also seek to enter a candidate, Rich Purtell.
Mr. Purtell and the Libertarian Party would miss the opportunity to join the ballot due to the shortened timeframe to gain petitions. This would leave just the Democrat and Republican to duke it out, with a landslide victory going to Fred Akshar. But with that victory came the understanding that a year later, State Senator Akshar would have to face challengers and secure another victory from voters to sustain his elected office. In 2016, the Libertarian Party is once again on the move, with more time for the same candidate.
We spoke with Rich Purtell [see video] in our studio in Binghamton, NY on June 17, 2016. This exclusive 30 minute conversation covered who is Rich Purtell – a Southern Tier lifelong resident who mechanical engineer. We also delved into his history in politics and why he is seeking the 52nd State Senate seat.
“I just felt like what the State really needs is someone with business experience. And that’s what I have, and why I felt I should try and get into the race last year. Similar attitude to why I am running this year too.”
The need to provide the public with a choice is not the only thing driving Mr. Purtell. Issues like property tax hikes, growth in medicaid and unfunded mandate costs, Common Core and fraud/corruption are top on his list of problems that need to be resolved. But less well publicized issues like health provider taxes are equally in his crosshairs.
“It’s like a money laundering scheme, where New York and other State charge the health care providers a tax… They [States] take that money and give it back to the health care provider and then get a 50% match on the federal funds, so it’s like a money laundering scheme. It’s a shame. It’s very corrupt.”
While Mr. Purtell might sound like a Republican as he discussed his displeasure with Obamacare (which he finds unsustainable) and efforts by Democrats to transition to a single-payer system, as well as his support of the 2nd Amendment in opposition of the NY SAFE Act, he departs from that Party with is adherence to the principle of choice. As Mr. Purtell states,
“That’s a Libertarian concept. Choice originates from individuals. If it’s some other process that’s not individual choice then you are starting drift away from Libertarian philosophy. When the choice is made by someone other than yourself, people are choosing for you, you’re loosing freedom you’re losing liberty.”
Of course no current interview could fail to include a discussion of the Orlando shooting and it’s impact on the 2nd Amendment. Mr. Purtell, a former Marine, believes that police and the military should be restrained from automatic weapons in the same manner as citizens have been since 1986. At the same time he believes in the permit-less conceal carry efforts found in many States across the nation. Specifically in reference to the renewed gun ban efforts after the Orlando shooting,
“Try to set the emotions aside and let’s look at the 10 States that have constitutional carry… the presence of firearms also helps to retard crimes like rape and theft and violent crimes and so on… The States with constitutional carry have low crime rates, they don’t have mass shootings… where do we see mass shootings? In gun free zones.”
From this hot button issue the exclusive discussion transitioned to the subject of heroin, which gained significant national attention in 2015. Like many Libertarians Mr. Purtell advocates for the legalization of usage of drugs. His view as he described, is to look at heroin addition as a health problem and enforce laws on those that sell and distribute drugs – with the noted exception of marijuana. Also, the big picture of legal drug abuse such as opioids must be addressed. Other options to address pain management is needed beyond prescription drugs, as Mr. Purtell stated in an expansion to his comments provided to us in September 2015.
The key for voters considering the Libertarian Party in the NY 52nd State Senate race, may well be summed up by these thoughts from Mr. Purtell to voters,
“I’m going to err on the side of giving people more choice. If the option is more government or more power to the people, I’m almost always going to…I want more power to the people. It’s pretty much universal on every issue.”
For voters interested, the petition period to allow the Libertarian Party, and Rich Purtell, onto the November ballot begins on July 12, 2016.
** Note – Binghamton Political Buzz does not advocate nor endorse any candidate or Party in any election. We believe that all candidates voices should be heard, and strive to allow voters the opportunity to hear those voices. We believe that providing information on candidates/elected officials and their platforms is a benefit for voters and their decisions. **
For those that share their thoughts in blogs and news media, a certain reality exists. There is always someone who disagrees with what you present, often to an extreme. It’s the price of being bold enough to speak out.
I recall my first experience getting some harsh feedback from an article in 2006. The article I was writing condemned the killing of abortion clinic doctors. There was a “preacher” who took offense to this. So much so that he threatened my life. (I wish I saved the comments from Blogspot when I created my own website to show how crazy he got.)
Now I could have searched for a safe space, rolled up in a ball, and whined to my friends about the experience. Or whatever was the Progressive equivalent of that in 2006. Instead I stood my ground, defended my position, and went on to the next article. It’s what commentators, news media, and public figures do. Until now.
Gersh Kuntzman writes for the NY Daily News. He recently wrote about firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. He describes the experience for his readers,
“The recoil bruised my shoulder, which can happen if you don’t know what you’re doing. The brass shell casings disoriented me as they flew past my face. The smell of sulfur and destruction made me sick. The explosions — loud like a bomb — gave me a temporary form of PTSD. For at least an hour after firing the gun just a few times, I was anxious and irritable.”
To the suspect surprise of Kuntzman, gun owners found his experience to be laughable. To be honest I was one of them. I first fired the military version, a M-16, at Parris Island in 1986. I accidentally bumped into people on the NYC subway harder than the recoil, never got disoriented, barely noticed the gunpowder smell. As a boy of the Bronx I recall firecrackers louder than the rifle firing, and as far as I am aware have never experienced a moment of PTSD in my life. Thus I took to Facebook after 15 seconds of a search on Youtube to post an video of a 7 yr old firing the AR-15 with smiles and ease. I also added the following comment:
“This 7 year old badass is more of a man than Gersh Kuntzman of the NY Daily News”
It would seem I was not alone in my assessment of Mr. Kuntzman. Yet it was the fact that the readership for Mr. Kuntzman went viral because he was labeled a “Beta Male” and “pansy” that caused the Daily News writer to issue a follow-up article. You might think he would have doubled down on his theme that an AR-15 is too dangerous, and he did to an extent. But what he really focused on was how gun owners were bad people because they mocked his delicate frame.
His apparent goal was to use the fact that he was being called out for blatantly exaggerating the experience of firing a .223 rifle to sensationalize his personal view and political agenda. He admitted that his target were non-gun owners. People that don’t know that there is no difference between an AR-15 or a Ruger Mini-14, or just about ANY .223 semi-automatic rifle in the world,
“To reiterate, the goal of the story was simply to share with readers my experience of firing an AR-15, which very few of them have done.”
But since untold numbers highlighted the fact that 7 yr old girls were more hearty and capable than he was, he had to find a different way to justify his over-the-top dramatization. So, in classic modern Progressive tactics, he changed the discussion to emotions and blamed his critics of sexist bullying. He even made sure to fill 2/3 of his response article with selected comments he received to push home how damaged he was. One would imagine that he experienced another bout of his so-called “temporary PTSD” – something I am sure he has no concept of (otherwise he would never have used the term).
Now the discussion became about harsh words like “pansy”, and gender identity. Buzzwords for Liberals to silence any opposing thought. Since Mr. Kuntzman’s position is indefensible, rather than just move on, he chose to try to silence any voice grounded in reality, as proven by hundreds of Youtube videos and millions with first-hand real-world knowledge.
Personally, I think Kuntzman is a drama queen of the worst order. He, in my opinion based on my real world experience, wrote a piece of fan fiction for the Left, to try to give support for the calls of gun bans based on emotional deception. His description is so blatantly disjointed from reality, his effort to try to give credibility to gun restrictions so obvious, that his plea to call his detractors bullies makes sense. It’s what his target audience would expect.
As a political commentator, I’m fine with his translucent effort to justify anti-2nd Amendment thought. What annoys me is that he is doing so dishonestly. Exaggerations and attacks meant to silence free thought are the exact opposite of what political commentary is about. That is what Kuntzman wrote, political commentary. Because I believe the dead could fire an AR-15 with less negative effects than what Mr. Kuntzman described.
There is no form of communication of ideas that is without critique. Sometimes that critique is harsh. But if the message being conveyed is honest and clear, it deserves to be respected. Conversely, if the message is deceptive and manipulative (other than intentionally so in a mystery or drama) it deserves the mud its dragged through on the way to the trash bin. The freedom of speech works both ways.
If Mr. Kuntzman wants to honestly try to show how an AR-15 is somehow deadlier than any other .223 semi-automatic rifle, and therefore should be banned, more power to him. But, since he was incapable of doing this, descending to verbal trickery and silencing critique fails to give any credibility to his position. In fact it removes any such credibility except for the most gullible and fanatical true-believers.
Michael “Vass” Vasquez
President – M V Consulting, Inc
Published on June 17, 2016 at the Binghamton Political Buzz, by Michael “Vass” Vasquez.
In the evening of June 16, 2016, WSKG held a debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, that featured 2 of the 3 Republican candidates running for the New York 22nd Congressional seat. As odd as that may seem, it was a debate that was run well. It highlighted several facts of character and positions for the candidates that were in attendance, and raised questions about the race. We were in attendance at the event, and left with the following thoughts.
The debate is critical considering the June 28th primary is just under 2 weeks away. Which called to question why the date was selected knowing that Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney would not be able to appear as the final days of session in Albany was happening at the same time. It was noted 5 times in the debate that Assemblywoman Tenney was not able to attend the event, but only once was it mentioned that the reason was specifically because she was doing her job as the only elected politician in the Republican debate. But both Steve Wells and George Phillips followed the rules of WSKG and never mentioned Assemblywoman Tenney, her positions, or the slew of negative attack ads that have flooded mailboxes and television airwaves.
That said, the moderator – Charlie Compton – should be commended. The debate was kept at a decent pace, allowing 13 questions to be asked, including follow-up questions. The type of questions ranged from regional economics to the Orlando shooting and gun control, to fracking and even Donald Trump. By our count, Mr. Compton called out each candidate several times when they avoided a question or changed the question to answer a different matter – 2 out of the 3 times for George Phillips, 4 out of the 6 times for Steve Wells.
The good of the debate came in the answers given. By that criteria George Phillips won the debate. He provided the most clear answers, with the most depth (more on the nature of the answers in a moment). The answers of George Phillips and Steve Wells gave a clear understanding of the character of each candidate. Supporters of each were sure to be pleased, low-information voters may well have found it interesting, and those who follow politics intently far less so.
The bad of the debate was far more expansive and detailed. From the first question the lack of Claudia Tenney was felt in the debate. The first question was on gun control and the Orlando shooting.
Mr. Phillips took the opportunity to note his rating with the NRA – almost. Mr. Phillips noted he has a “A” rating, but in fact he has an “Aq” rating – indicating that he has spoken in favor of the 2nd Amendment but has taken no action to support that position (Mr. Wells also shares this “Aq” rating). What was lost in this question was the fact that just the day prior the NRA endorsed Claudia Tenney, who has an actual “A” rating. Voters were denied this critical piece of information.
Mr. Phillips went on to discuss that he felt the root of the problem of mass shootings and domestic terror was the “power of evil”. He was unable to clarify what that actually means, nor was he able to clarify how to combat that effectively when asked by moderator Mr. Compton. Mr. Phillips did note that fighting ISIS and ending No Fly Lists were part of the resolution to these issues.
It was also in this same first question where Mr. Wells evaded the question. When asked about whether he would support or oppose No Fly Lists and similar legislation, Mr. Wells shifted to an attack on Congress for not reading legislation as part of the problem and a tool to attack 2nd Amendment rights. When called out for this by Mr. Compton, and asked if Mr. Wells had read the proposed Lists and restrictions he attacked Congress about, Mr. Wells admitted he did not. Further, Mr. Wells could not answer how he would address the “evil” beyond stating that it was a societal issue and noting that more government was needed to intervene in those taking steps to become radicalized. What those interventions would be, or how much the government might violate constitutional rights in doing so, was left unanswered.
Both candidates both avoided answering the simple yes or no question of if they endorse Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. While Mr. Wells was called out for his extended avoidance of the question, Mr. Phillips was not. Ultimately, voters have yet to be told if either of these 2 congressional candidates will stand with the choice of the public as declared by rank-and-file Republican voters.
Another local issue that has national ramifications was the issue of fracking (Hydrolic Fracturing to enhance natural gas capture). An issue that is roughly evenly divided in the state, Mr. Phillips cited his 2010 visit to a Pennsylvania fracking site and the importance of natural gas to the nation energy future. [Note – we were with Mr. Phillips at that visit and covered the event at that time] Mr. Wells avoided the discussion on fracking, instead speaking about the problems of government regulations and the EPA. He followed up these statements by changing the question on ending subsidies for energy companies with an attack on the government picking winners and losers such as President Obama’s green energy intaitives (ie. Solyndra, A123 Systems, et. al.).
When it came to the question of climate change, once again Mr. Wells changed the question. Once again moderator Charlie Compton called Mr. Wells out for his avoidance. But that answer was never clearly given for this question. For Mr. Phillips, he addressed that the issue is not final and that there are serious valid questions existing about the science being used to justify climate change. Mr. Phillips then suggested that funds should not be committed while these questions remain and nations such as China and India continue to ignore suggested climate change regulations.
When it came to the issue of a living wage (which Mr. Compton clarified is not minimum wage) both candidates appeared lost. Both answered questions about the minimum wage issue. Mr. Wells blamed regulations as causing a lack of competitiveness, suggesting a reduction in these regulations to spark economic growth. Mr. Phillips cited a personal experience from decades ago, and attacked wasted public tax dollar usage in the form of Start-Up NY (a subject he has never publicly spoken about until this race). [Note – Claudia Tenney did publicly comment on Start-Up NY - January 2015 - in the NY Post and minimum wage as far back as 2012]
In closing, each of the candidates touted their strengths and their commitment to Republican values. For Mr. Wells this came as a discussion of the well reported fact that America is traveling on the wrong track, and that his experience as a business owner made his views the best for the NY-22, Congress, and thus the nation. Mr. Phillips noted the issues facing the nation – the heroin crisis, healthcare, creating jobs, removing the Federal Reserve, fighting ISIS – and that he has policies, taken from the past from Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, that can be a solution.
Both candidates consistently failed to note that neither has spoken publicly on any issue facing the nation and the NY-22 race. In the case of Mr. Phillips, since his last failed run for Congress in 2010, including the time that he was given an appointment as a Broome County Legislator that he later resigned from without completing a full term, he has had 4 speeches to the local TEA Party about the Constitution and a letter to editor 1 month before announcing his run for Congress. He has not addressed, nor appeared at events discussing, the NY SAFE Act, minimum wage, the Executive Orders on immigration or gun control, or any other subject. Until his decision to run for Congress again, Mr. Phillips had nothing to say and took no action.
Mr. Wells, though an insider in the Republican Party (he holds a volunteer position as a financial chairman for Central NY) and a political donor for both Republicans and Democrats – including Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015 – Mr. Wells has taken even less public action. Up to the moment he jumped into the NY 22nd congressional race in February 2016, Mr. Wells had never made a public comment or appearance on any Republican issue. Even during the NY-22 race, Mr. Wells has avoided clarification how his political donations, explained as merely part of doing business in NY State, have not helped to promote the corruption in New York by supporting a Governor who has continued to be under investigation for corruption.
In summary, the WSKG/League of Women Voters debate was informational for voters in how is displayed the character of George Phillips and Steve Wells. Mr. Phillips clearly showed himself as a candidate firmly entrenched in the past. His 15 references (out of the 13 questions asked at the debate) to past policies, past politicians, and past failed legislation (like economic zones currently in effect under Gov. Cuomo and suggested by Sen. Rand Paul) was nostalgic but not necessarily the best path for the future. Especially in a Congress that is both divided and not interested in such past policy.
As to Mr. Wells, a clear determined intent to evade answers, avoid questions he is not informed on, and a bit of arrogance to assume his inexperience is a qualification shone throughout the night. It may best be summed up by his answer to the question on improving the economy. Mr. Wells noted his observation that his clients in NY have had their businesses shrink year after year, and thus a change is needed. But Mr. Wells, for all those years, took no action to help his clients of the people of New York. Instead he helped himself, becoming a political donor in 2000, and supporting the current architect (Gov. Cuomo) responsible for over 100,000 people and over $5 billion in tax revenue leaving the State in 2013 alone.
Would the WSKG debate have been better if Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney had been there? Her supporters would say yes. But while voters were denied critical facts due to her work in the Assembly representing the voters that overwhelmingly elected her, those same voters got critical information about the character of George Phillips and Steve Wells.
Published on June 15, 2016 by Michael “Vass” Vasquez at the Binghamton Political Buzz
As the nation once again tries to address the issue of terrorism and mass shootings, the 2nd Amendment has once again come under fire as the nation struggles to identify the correct path to travel. The line between rational concerns and controls is juxtaposed against emotion and over-reaction, with some politicians self-imposing silence on the issue. The question that directly faces the nation is what is the best direction to take.
None question the fact that the Orlando nightclub shooting is a tragedy for the nation. 49 Americans were killed with as many injured. But the reaction has varied from singular actions like renewed calls for gun bans by President Obama on June 14, 2016, consideration of arrests on suspicion of committing a crime, and/or blame (of islamophobia, fear of offending a religion, for and against gays, and US inter/national policies).
Calls for another gun ban center on “assault weapons” – a term that is broad and misapplied regularly. As is commonly used, an “assault weapon” is generally considered a standard semi-automatic firearm (normally but not exclusively a rifle) that has mostly cosmetic features such as a pistol grip, folding stock, magazine loading, and military-style appearance. Often this title is matched with a mislabeling of firearms, sometimes for sensational reasons.
In the case of the Orlando shooting, early reports claimed an AR-15 (civilian version of an M-16) was used when the actual firearm was a Sig Sauer MCX. The Washington Post, as an example, had to change the title of their June 12, 2016 article to correct their inaccurate labeling of the weapons used in the shooting.
“The headline in this story was changed to make it clear that the weapon involved in Sunday’s shooting in Orlando was not an AR-15.”
But the AR-15 has become the face of mass shooting firearms due to the familiarity to Americans from movies, even as studies and reporting have found that riles are the least commonly used firearm in mass shootings. In fact, according to a NY Times article from September 2014 on the myths of assault weapons, the Justice Department has determined that the most effective way to reduce gun violence is not an “assault weapons ban” but targeting locations and individuals.
“Handguns were used in more than 80 percent of gun murders each year… Handguns were the weapons most likely to kill you… The ban did reduce the number of assault weapons recovered by local police, to 1 percent from roughly 2 percent… More than 20 years of research funded by the Justice Department has found that programs to target high-risk people or places, rather than targeting certain kinds of guns, can reduce gun violence.”
Other research, done by Professor James Alan Fox of Northwestern University, has shown that even with the “assault weapon” ban in place, the number of mass shootings have been unaffected. Of course this is contrasted by FBI data based on edited timeframes as we noted in the 2014 article Is the FBI stacking the deck on gun violence and mass shooting stats?
“Over the past 13 years fewer mass shooting (by 8.6 incidents/year) and fewer injuries and murders as a result of these shootings (by 20 people/year) than is the 30 year historical average have occurred.”
Even with the data indicating the error of simplifying the solution to mere gun restriction, calls for gun bans continue. According to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on June 14, 2016, gun control is a requirement in fighting domestic terrorists,
“I think that we have to face the facts that gun control is part and parcel of homeland security and how things are evolving.”
But that is countered by Chris Cox of the National Rifle Association (NRA). His comments highlighting the failure of a reliance on a singular action to protect the populace,
“The San Bernardino terrorist attack wasn’t stopped by California’s so-called ‘assault weapons’ ban. The gun ban in Brussels didn’t prevent the terrorist attack there. And France’s strict gun control didn’t stop the two attacks in Paris, committed with fully-automatic rifles and grenades.”
But if a gun ban is not the answer, what about arrests? As proposed on June 14, 2016, on WUTQ’s Talk of the Town program, by Counter-terrorism expert Princella Smith, a change to constitutional freedoms is needed. As she stated,
“I don’t understand why the FBI can’t put someone in jail for [unintelligible] even just under suspicion for communicating with people also on the watch list… I believe because we are facing a unique threat…if you are on the internet openly speaking things that say ‘I want to destroy Americans based on such and such ideology’ that should be an arrestable offense. I’m literally saying change the law.”
This is in ways even more dangerous to some than the shooting itself. It channels elements of the McCarthy investigations https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism, with the potential of almost any action being interpreted as a “danger” or “threat”, depending on the political preference of those reviewing.
“But governmental suppression of causes and beliefs seems to me to be the very antithesis of what our Constitution stands for… The First Amendment provides the only kind of security system that can preserve a free government – one that leaves the way wide open for people to favor, discuss, advocate, or incite causes and doctrines however obnoxious and antagonistic such views may be to the rest of us.” – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, Yates v. United States, 1957
The outrage of the IRS targeting conservatives highlights the potential abuse of such a change in policy.
“Among the most serious allegations a federal court can address are that an executive agency has targeted citizens for mistreatment based on their political views. No citizen—Republican or Democrat, socialist or libertarian —should be targeted or even have to fear being targeted on those grounds.” - Washington Post, March 22, 2016
Though the issue of mass shootings and terrorism are different, the question of bias and political agendas should be considered. The question of what, if any, constitutional rights are worth exchange for the presumption of safety must be asked. The key being that safety cannot be guaranteed, either by arrest or gun control.
Even in nations (like Israel) where arrest or detainment based on a presumed threat exists, acts of terror still occur. Strict gun control efforts equally have failed to prevent acts of terror and gun violence, such as in cities like Chicago and San Bernadino, and States like New York (which enacted the NY SAFE Act in 2013 that has failed to curb gun violence according to the June 2016 G.I.V.E. report) .
Which brings us to blame. Examples include Donald Trump blaming radical Islam, Hillary Clinton blaming guns, President Obama blaming critics, and the ACLU blaming Republican Christians. But as in all cases where finger-pointing exists, this is both flawed and ineffective. Blame neither protects nor prevents anything. If anything, blame merely influences political favor and advances political agendas.
All of this would infer that greater discussion is needed. But that is not the case for many politicians. With emotions high, in an election year, some politicians have opted to avoid discussion of the 2nd Amendment, gun control, and other aspects of the issues facing the nation – at the federal and local levels. One example, from Upstate New York, is that of Assemblyman Marc Butler and State Senator Robert Ortt. Their planned joint press conference to discuss a Bill addressing the NY SAFE Act was cancelled after the Orlando shooting, with no indication of when they might resume this discussion.
Given the push, immediately in the aftermath of a mass shooting and/or terrorist attack, to demand action, it would appear that an emotional response (of whichever extreme) is likely. Concurrently, the likelihood of such sudden action being inadequate to resolve the root problem remains high. If past history is an indicator, the complexity of the issue and its multiple parts – religious zealotry, mental illness, political furor, ect. – will never be boiled down to a 30 second soundbite nor a politically motivated isolated and narrow piece of legislation. The best path of the nation remains as obscure after the Orlando shooting as it was prior to it.
Published on June 13, 2016 by Michael “Vass” Vasquez at the Binghamton Political Buzz
Prior to the 2 debates for the NY 22nd Congressional District Republican candidates on June 13, 2016, Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney gave an exclusive interview to Binghamton Political Buzz about the race. The exclusive interview, on June 10, 2016, was at the Tenney Campaign Broome County office located at 1115 Upper Front Street in Binghamton, NY.
The interview was the second time Binghamton Political Buzz interviewed the Republican candidate, the first interview being on January 23, 2016. In this second interview, Claudia Tenney addressed the multiple negative campaign ads being pushed by the Grow the Economy SuperPAC and Republican candidate Steve Wells. The ads, described as a “smear campaign” by Tenney, have focused on a singular week of Assembly voting in 2014. The negative ads allege that Assemblywoman Tenney missed some 525 votes the week of June 19th – which is correct to a point. As Tenney states, she did leave to take care of her seriously ill mother on that day, but she also made up the votes via paper ballot afterwards as is allowed by Assembly rules.
Further, Assemblywoman Tenney addressed her full record of votes – another issue the negative ads have attacked her on. Claims by Steve Wells have stated that Tenney had not passed any Bills in her time in elected office; while the SuperPAC has claimed that Tenney has had a significant record voting with disgraced Assemblyman Sheldon Silver. Assemblywoman Tenney asserted that both claims were “false flags” – a term used to indicate that disinformation is being used to sway opinions. She noted that for any Bill to pass the State Assembly, in the past several decades, it required the Speaker to approve. Whether the Bill in question was naming a highway or the State budget, it would always have the Speakers vote if it passed. But, Tenney pointed out that she never voted for a tax increase and was the first to seek the removal of Sheldon Silver when no one in New York politics believed it was possible. We also verified that Assemblywoman Tenney passed 77 Bills and over 770 co-sponsored Bills in her time thus far in office.
Besides addressing the negative ads, Tenney spoke about the current status of the race. She described the advances her campaign has made since our January interview, including endorsement by the Conservative Party of NY [Note – since this interview, Claudia Tenney was endorsed by the NRA as well]. In addition she discussed part of her focus if she is elected to Congress,
“…That’s my Legacy in Albany. I tell the truth, I look at a situation, I try to figure out what the solution is, and I provide the solution. I don’t wait for the wind to blow and figure which way all the politicians are moving… I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure the NY-22 is on the map and growing.”
** Note – Binghamton Political Buzz has again contacted all campaigns for the candidates of the NY 22nd congressional race and offered the chance for an interview. The Tenney campaign was the first, and to-date only campaign, to respond to our request. Any interview will be presented without edit – as is the standard of the Binghamton Political Buzz. We present these interviews for the benefit of voters, to allow them to have more than 30 second soundbites to evaluate all the candidates. **
Published at the Binghamton Political Buzz on June 3, 2016 by Michael “Vass” Vasquez
With the release of the May unemployment figures on June 3, 2016, millions of Americans are left confused as they read headlines touting a reduction in the unemployment rate (good news) – yet pundits and honest coverage of the data reveals massive problems as an all-time record of Americans without work has been created (bad news). After decades of being trained to focus on headlines and 30 second soundbites, many are faced with the now daunting task of delving into the content of an article filled with dreaded numbers and facts. If this revelation seems harsh, it may only be because for years Americans have been told and presented the facts about the US economy, which was rejected wholesale in favor of a positive if shallow headline.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate is now 4.7%. Although the prior sentence is commonly the headline or tweet used about the US economy, it is functionally useless information. Worse, it has been used to obfuscate a serious decline in jobs that D.C. is oblivious about and the middle class is all too aware as being real.
It was February 2011 when suddenly the unemployment rate uncharacteristically dropped, even as Americans had fewer jobs. A mere 36,000 jobs created, and a 24 year (1985) low at the time as the participation rate hit 64.2%. The headline of our article describing the situation was Unemployment rate hits 9% and pigs fly, a review of the economy few dared print. Also generally rarely discussed at the time was the fact that 200,000 stopped counting as unemployed to create that unemployment reduction.
In a moment of deja vu, the May 2016 report shows that 38,000 jobs were created, a 39 year low (1977), with a participation rate of 62.6%. This was because 458,000 Americans stopped being counted as unemployed – causing the decrease in the unemployment rate. Even if we only look back one month, the writing was on the wall. In comparing the US economy in 2008, 2012, and May 6, 2016 the devastation is apparent in every statistic that actually reflects the economy. National debt, employment, the number of Americans in poverty, the list goes on.
“…self-delusion and self-aggrandizement provides no benefit to the American people… America cannot be made great through selective editing of facts or cheerful political spin on data.”
Even as the 5 year trend (of lower unemployment rates with decreasing participation and higher poverty & national debt) continues, a new factor is coming to bear – interest rates. Artificially low for an extended period, interest rates are expected to increase at some point in 2016. The reasoning is that “…summit of full employment, the more trade-offs there will be between somewhat slower job growth and rising wages” as stated by Thomas Perez, as presented by the NY Times. Yet, full employment remains a distant hope as fewer are counted correctly even as the Fed and some economists make predictions as if it were.
Considering that higher interest rates slow job growth, added to the reality of more than 94 million, and the potential final months of the Obama Administration may be dire for the American middle class that is often hardest hit by these economic eventualities. This gives new meaning to the words of President Obama on June 1, 2016
“Don’t think that actually this agenda is going to help you,” Obama continued. “It’s not designed to help you. And the evidence of the last 30 years, not to mention common sense, should tell you their answers to our challenges are no answers at all.”
Self-delusion, an agenda working against America, an inability to face a reality unfolding before the eyes of the world, whatever the case one thing is very clear. The US economy has a problem. A very long-term problem. Until there is a long-term solution, millions will likely suffer more than less.
Published at the Binghamton Political Buzz on May 20, 2016 by Michael “Vass” Vasquez
After 6 years, 2 Binghamton Mayors, 2 Broome County Legislators, and 2 Binghamton City Council members what is the status of the North Side grocery project? The project itself has been surrounded by hype and hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding from taxpayers over the years. But what is there to show for all of that?
The issue at hand started back in 1995, when North Side residents of Binghamton initially lost access to staple foods such as milk and peanut butter and bread unless they are purchased from mini-marts. Research by the Center for Popular Research, Education and Policy in Rochester, NY, determined in 2006 that $9 million a year is spent on basic food staples in the North Side alone. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has increased 20% since January 2006, and an amazing 60% since 1995. As bad as that increase may be, the fact that costs in mini-marts are higher than grocery stores makes the data even worse.
This does not include the fact that many residents need to take taxi cabs to and from grocery stores like Wal-Mart or Price Chopper, costing up to $20 per trip. For residents that can’t afford the additional costs of transportation, rides on public transit equates to an extended travel time and lack of ease in carrying groceries – how many eggs are broken in such trips is just unknown. It’s a problem politicians are well aware of.
In 2009 we reached out to Binghamton Councilwoman Lea Webb, a year after her efforts drew the attention of Oprah Winfrey to the project. It was also in 2008 that the Broome County Legislature provided a grant for $40,000 to assist with environmental testing, marketing, and other costs associated with developing the store. We learned in 2009 that action was taking place, a further $150,000 grant had been secured from State Senator Malcom Smith and Save-A-Lot was in negotiation to open a store at 10-12 West State Street.
The positive news and reports of a store opening in April 2010 bore no fruit. Like the efforts of former Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan in 2006, interest and action fizzled once news media attention drifted to other issues. Thus we reached out to all the politicians involved in April of 2011. Our goal was to determine what the status of the North Side grocery was, and what had happened to the $190,000 in taxpayer funds.
Then-Legislator Jason Garnar advised us at that time that some of the funds were being used for “site preparation and environmental remediation.” The amounts were unclear and records were not immediately available. We separately determined that $29,900 of the funds were reallocated to demolitions of vacant buildings in Binghamton. Our requests to get further details from the Ryan Administration went unanswered.
From that point until 2014 the issue essentially went dead. It was in 2014 that once again talk of a new North Side Grocery resurfaced. By 2015, with Mayor Rich David at the helm of the City of Binghamton, not only were efforts re-invigorated but additional taxpayer funded grants were issued. An additional $150,000 was dedicated to the North Side Grocery project, in a combination of efforts by the Broome County Land Bank, Mayor David, and the late-State Senator Libous.
Yet again, as of this article in 2016, the North Side of Binghamton remains without a grocery for 21 years and continuing to count. Therefore we reached out to the David Administration, Councilman Conrad Taylor (who was elected to Councilwoman Webb’s seat starting January 2016), and Legislator Mary Kaminsky (who replaced Legislator Garnar in 2015). We provided all elected officials 3 days to be able to research and provide answers to the following on-going questions:
- When will the Big Lots location be done with its improvements to allow construction of a grocery?
- Are the Syracuse developers still attached to this project?
- Are there additional City/County/State funds that will be needed to complete this project?
- What have you done with regard to this project?
- What is the current projected timeframe for completion?
Councilman Taylor was the first to respond on May 18, 2016, re-stating reports from news media that an environmental study was on-going to determine if the proposed location for a grocery is capable of being renovated or salvaged. He was unaware of the current status of potential discussions with backers from Syracuse that had reportedly been interested in the 2014-15 talks to create the grocery as that would be handled via the Mayor’s Office. Councilman Taylor noted that some funds were being reallocated for other projects in the North Side of Binghamton, though he did not name those projects, nor the amounts to be used. Further he stated, on the overall progress for the North Side he represents,
“This is good because it’s important to see some major projects on the North Side moving forward even as others are stymied. From my end I have been in contact with a representative of the United States Small Business Administration at the federal level and we have been discussing other options. It’s very disappointing that we don’t have a grocery store on the North Side of Binghamton and it needs to remain a priority for everyone in government plaza, but it’s hard for government to legislate where a business should go. With that in mind, local government officials need to use some new tactics on this matter which is why I’ve been trying to get the US Small Business Administration at the federal level involved.”
Legislator Kaminsky contacted us on the morning of the deadline, May 20, 2016, for this article to state that the Broome County Legislature no longer had possession of the property in question (citing Resolution 2015-0200). She equally stated that she was unaware of the status of talks with Jim Kilcy, of Binghamton, and Jim Mailloux, of Syracuse who were previously in discussions to develop the North Side Grocery. In reference to the funding, she identified that the $150,000 was secured from the NYS Dormitory Authority via late-Senator Libous, and suggested that State Senator Akshar or Mayor David be contacted for further update. Legislator Kaminsky was unaware of any other details but did add that,
“I will support efforts to bring a grocery store to the north side but currently this project is in the city’s hands.”
Which brings us to the David Administration. As of this article we have yet to receive any response. We are aware that our initial efforts to provide the David Administration with our questions were prevented via the Binghamton City public website. We followed up in-person, via phone, and email to provide our questions for this article, and believe that these additional efforts were adequate to deliver the request with 2 days of time to respond.
If and when we do receive a response from the David Administration, we will provide that response to the public. All elected officials are invited to provide any response, at any time, to any subject affecting the public, so that we can provide it to the public – and any interview or comment will be published verbatim and in full context as is our policy.
Thus, in summation, where does the North Side Grocery project stand at this time? Apparently no elected official seems to know. There is a lot of shuffling of responsibility on-going. The project has moved from Broome County Legislators, to the Broome County Land Bank, to the City of Binghamton. There has been involvement, to different degrees, by City Councilmembers and State Senators, to the Mayor’s Administration. The project, in its lifetime, has been the subject of national attention, and used in election campaign promises (notably Councilman Taylor and Mayor David). The project has received no less than $340,000 in taxpayer funded grants to-date.
But there is no definitive answers to be had apparently. The constant shifting of elected officials and government organizations with control and/or influence over this project seems to have no end. Funding is effectively becoming a slush fund for other needed applications, though it is unclear how much and for what projects (besides some amount of building demolition) funds are being reallocated.
Given all the changes and change of hands, even news media that have followed this project for years cannot describe the path that the North Side Grocery Project currently is on, let alone elected officials apparently. What can be said definitively is that residents of the North Side of Binghamton remain without a grocery store. That status, after 2 decades and besides 6 years of our coverage, continues to be a wait-and-see event. What it will take to change that status is unknown.