The 2016 New York election cycle has been a wild ride thus far. The April presidential primary, the Republican congressional primary, and now the State races for Senate and Assembly have kept many in the Southern Tier and the NY-22 entertained if not informed. Candidates have been kicked out of races and re-entered, 3rd party candidates have appeared, and there have been no end to the political ads since March. But with 50 days til the election, candidates met to give voters better clarity on who they are and what they hope to do if (re-)elected. One of those meetings was the Annual Candidate Forum presented by the Americans for Restoring the Constitution (AFRTC) at the Vestal Public Library in Vestal, NY. This was the 6th Candidate Forum since 2010 organized by the AFRTC. Roughly 50 members of the public – doctors, lawyers, business owners, politicians as well as just average Americans gathered for the event. Some even traveled as far as from Chenango and Tioga Counties for the event. All were present to meet with Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney (Republican) candidate for the New York 22nd congressional seat; State Senator Fred Akshar (Republican) seeking re-election for the 52nd State Senate seat; Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (Democrat) incumbent looking for re-election for the 123rd Assembly seat; Dorollo Nixon (Republican) who is challenging for the 123rd Assembly seat; and Jason Garnar (Democrat) who is in the Broome County Executive race. While this event drew most of the candidates on the ballot for November 8th, not every candidate appeared. Senator Charles Schumer once again declined to respond to requests to attend the Candidate Forum. Both challengers for the Senate were unable to appear – Wendy Long (Republican) and Alex Merced (Libertarian) – due to scheduling. Mr. Merced did state that he will answer questions from the event via Youtube video, and thus will have a delayed participation but a public response. Ms. Long indicated to us that she intends to make arrangements to answer questions from the AFRTC in the near future. State Senate challenger Sharon Ball (Democrat) was unable to attend, but promised to speak with members of the AFRTC in October for a shorter introduction to a more limited group pf voters. Debbie Preston (Republican), the Broome County Executive, was unable to attend. In addition, Legislator Kim Myers (Democrat), seeking the NY-22 seat, declined to appear at the event. Martin Babinec (no Party) is a challenger now on the Reform Party line also for the NY-22 race, declined to respond to requests about the event made over the past 2 months. The AFRTC Vestal Candidate Forum is a unique event. The longest running open to the public Forum in the region, candidates are not allowed to debate or attack opponents. Questions are NOT predetermined, instead they are submitted by attendees at the event. Recordings are not allowed except by members of the media (of which the only full unedited coverage provided to the public is by M V Consulting, Inc.). Candidates get 3 minutes to introduce themselves, and 2 minutes to respond to questions, with an additional 2 minutes for closing thoughts. The popularity of the event has sparked imitation, with the Tabernacle United Methodist Church sponsoring a similar style Forum of their own for the first time in 2016. [NOTE: M V Consulting, recorded almost 2 hours of coverage of the 2 1/2 hour AFRTC event, which will be presented without edit as recorded.] Due to the more spontaneous nature of the event, and the smaller size of the venue, there was a more personal feel to the event than the United Methodist Forum. Candidates were visibly more lively and interactive. Partially because some of the questions were on unexpected subjects and/or aspects of the positions each candidate is running for. In fact some questions were presented to the candidates that were beyond the scope of the elected office they sought – providing the public with a glimpse of the ability of the candidates to react to events on the fly and a broader sense of who the candidates are. The subjects presented to some or all of the candidates included: the 10th Amendment; Abortion; Black Livers Matter; Common Core; Heroin addiction and prevention; Limited Government; Job creation and preservation; Minimum wage; Taxes; the NY and NJ bombing; and Syrian refugees to name a few. These subjects, and the reactions of candidates, are critical to voters as they represent the non-media directed concerns of voters in the 2016 election cycle. Those candidates that appeared before the attendees started the night with their introductions. Most stayed off of major talking points, introducing their motivations and goals for elected office. Each of the candidates that have held elected office presented their records to-date. Several candidates garnered hushed but definitive responses from the small crowd as they spoke, but no interruptions were made when candidates spoke. All candidates were aware that they were speaking to a more conservative and fiscal-minded audience – more representative of the wider Central New York population than the more liberal concentration of Binghamton, NY, at the United Methodist event. The difference was most clear in the candidates that were at the Taberbnacle United Methodist Candidate Forum last Thursday. Republicans were more expressive and relaxed, Democrats a bit more reserved and calm. There was a noticeable focus on facts and legislation as opposed to the focus on feelings and intentions between the 2 election events for the State level candidates. Responses by the public attendees also displayed the difference of the political philosophy present at each event.
Jason Garnar had the most stark difference. Though very comfortable for most of the Forum on Monday, he did get somewhat defensive to a couple of questions. He had the worst reaction when asked about the impact of Governor Cuomo’s policies on New York State and Broome County late in the evening. But unlike the prior event, there were no direct attacks made on his opponent in this event. His disclosure of support from 2 known Republican politicians took some attendees unaware, and he was generally well received by the gathered public. Dorollo Nixon was the equal of Mr. Garnar in presentation, as he was more relaxed and expressive than a week ago. Only the second time that Mr. Nixon has been in an event with his opponent present, Mr. Nixon was more detailed in his views and motivations. While many of his answers were very well received (such as his strong stance on term limits that he pledged to uphold if elected) his response to the question on Syrian refugees – asked of every candidate at the event – may have been the only question that members of the audience had the greatest resistance with. Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo was again very poised. Her response to the varied questions was measured and direct – except when asked to evaluate Governor Cuomo which some in the audience noted to us after the event as being vague. In addition, we were asked by several attendees to followup the answer on minimum wages and its impact on the Southern Tier in our interview on September 20, 2016 with the Assemblywoman. Yet, there was no misunderstanding her opposition to the Buffalo Billions and similar programs that have received large sums of taxpayer funds but have had little success to show for this spending. State Senator Fred Akshar was the first candidate that had to leave the event early due to other commitments. Even so he did answer all questions asked by the public at the event. A consistent passion to address the heroin crisis was evident in many of his answers. The biggest surprise from questions answered may have been the honest evaluation that the SAFE Act can not be fully repealed but rather modified – at least as long as the Assembly is controlled by Democrats and Gov. Cuomo holds office. Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney was immediately responsive to the questions re-entering the congressional race from the primary. She started the evening addressing again the attacks on her attendance record – one of the biggest negative ad attacks levied against her in the Republican primary and now picked up in ads from the Nancy Pelosi directed PAC on NY-22 airwaves. Beyond that she was firm and consistent in her defense of veterans, and support of Constitutional Rights and values. She may have been the best received of all the candidates at the event based on feedback we received from some of the attendees. It must be noted and emphasized that several of the candidates at the event did not have their challengers present to provide the opposing viewpoints or clarity on their campaigns. The denial of those candidates to appear before the public can be said to be a direct statement on their concern for constituents and potentially performance if elected. To be clear, this is a statement on Martin Babinec, Debbie Preston, and Kim Myers. Each had months of preparation time and awareness. Each represents some of the least interactions with the public in the 2016 NY elections, which many feel is a disservice to the public. In conclusion the Americans for Restoring the Constitution 6th Candidate Forum in Vestal, NY, was a very successful event. Candidates were able to address multiple questions of concerned voters, providing their insight and motivations. Voters that are seeking information to help determine the best candidate for the varied elected offices will find some answers in the responses given – that M V Consulting is the only news media providing, without edit, full coverage for the public. ** Video of the Q & A is being processed and the article will be updated once videos (due to length it will be split, without edit, into several parts) are available. M V Consulting, Inc. has, or will be, interviewing several candidates in the 2016 NY elections. Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, State Senator Fred Akshar, and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo have been interviewed. Requests for interview have been extended to Kim Myers, Martin Babinec, and Sharon Ball – thus far all without response. Dorollo Nixon and Jason Garnar have expressed interest to conduct interviews which will be published when and if done. **