One down, two in, and three to go in NY congressional race

** As written previously by Michael “Vass” Vasquez for Binghamton Political Buzz Examiner.com **

In November 2015, Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney stepped up and announced that she would seek the Republican nomination for the 2016 congressional race for the 22nd District in New York. At the time, incumbent Rep. Richard Hanna was expected to seek re-election and was considered the underdog after making several very public attacks on the Republican Party and a well quoted support of Hillary Clinton. But in a move that caught the establishment leadership of the Republican Party off-guard, Rep. Hanna announced his retirement at the end of 2016. This left the NY-22 race wide open. Rumors on potential challengers followed quickly.

Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus

Pundits and political commentators started to evaluate the likely names to step up. This process highlighted a key factor of the NY-22 district. There is an extreme separation from the northern and southern portions of the district. Politics in the 2 poles rarely mixed, with little attention given to leading names outside their own local region. The only clear exceptions to this were Rep. Hanna, and Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, who both ran in the de facto election that was the Republican primary in 2014. Democrats failed to put a candidate on the ballot, effectively making the Republican primary a winner take all race.

Names rumored to be likely candidates to challenge the frontrunner Assemblywoman Tenney, included: Michael Backus out of Oswego County; Catherine Bertini out of Cortland County; Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi from Oneida County; and Anthony Picente Jr. also of Oneida County.

What has been happening is a far cry from what many expected though. For Democrats, former 1-term Legislator David Gordon charged forward while Assemblyman Brindisi vacillated on his interest in challenging Republicans in the strongly Republican district. That surprise was quickly followed by the discovery that in Broome County, a candidate from a congressional race in 2010 had arose from nowhere. George Phillips, who lost to Rep. Maurice Hinchey twice, and resigned from an appointed Legislator seat in less than a year, suddenly became the 3rd candidate, and the first to attempt to challenge Assemblywoman Tenney. Candidates were appearing from the fringes that had little name recognition and even less documented positions on the major issues that are affecting the nation at this time.

But the impact of these virtual unknowns, as well as the continued strength of Assemblywoman Tenney, is being felt in political circles. One of the potential candidates expected to throw his hat into the race, the Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus, has on January 15, 2016,  bowed out of the race. His reason is the same used by Rep. Hanna about his retirement – concern about his family.

“This decision came down to what is best for my family.”

At the time of the announcement of his retreat, Mr. Backus also put forth a clue about the nature of the discussion occurring among Republican County leadership. In comments to the Auburnpub.com, Mr. Backus further said,

“I still strongly believe that this country needs a new generation of common sense leadership and we, as a nation, need leaders who ignore party labels and find solutions to our most challenging problems. Together, we must send someone to Washington who will vote with the best interest of NY-22 at heart and work in collaboration with their colleagues. That’s the kind of person I’ll be voting for both in the primary and the general election.”

Who Mr. Backus may be indicating is unclear, but could indicate a preference to Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney. While George Phillips would be a new face in politics to more than two-thirds of the NY-22, his stance on the issues facing the nation are unknown. Mr. Phillips has repeatedly declined to answer news media requests to explain his platform or how he would vote on the majority of issues that have been headline news in the 6 years since he last was in the public eye. There is also no published or searchable statements on critical issues like the NY SAFE Act; Obamacare; hydrofracking; illegal immigration; and Executive Orders by President Obama by Mr. Phillips (including his campaign website).

Given this, Assemblywoman Tenney appears to better fit the description. She is known for her attempts to bring disgraced former Assembly leader Sheldon Silver to task years before charges were leveled by US District Attorney Preet Bahara. She is well known for her fiscal conservatism in regard to the NY State budgets presented by Governor Andrew Cuomo. She is an outspoken defender of 2nd Amendment rights as noted by Gun Owners of America, SCOPE NY, and the NRA. Finally, Assemblywoman Tenney has secured the powerful endorsement of Citizens United.

Still, there is no definitive answer on what Mr. Backus meant. But it is clear that there is one less potential candidate to enter the race. Considering the fact that petitions will be sought starting March 8, 2016, and the relative unknown status of the remaining potential candidates, the full range of candidates are likely to be decided before the end of January, if not in the coming week.

** Update – since this article was first published Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi and Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. have each bowed out of the NY-22 race. In addition, Aaron Price, an unknown Republican, has announced his intent to run. Speculation about political donor Steve Wells (Republican) and Broome County Legislator Kim Myers (Democrat) entering the race have gain strength. **

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