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Candidates display varied positions in 24th congressional district debate

The candidates running for the 24th congressional district seat offered three distinct choices for voters in the first televised debate featuring all three candidates last night.   The budget deficit,  jobs, and health care reform were major issues discussed in the WCNY studios, but the most pointed comments mirrored a dispute in the campaign over abortion and the definition of rape.

It was an exchange television viewers have already seen played out in dozens of commercials in this very close race -- Democrat Dan Maffei is accusing Republican incumbent Ann Marie Buerkle of co-sponsoring a bill that would redefine rape in the context of abortion.  During the debate Buerkle accused Maffei of misrepresenting what happened, because the forcible rape language in the bill was changed.

"His ads were deceptive, distorted, and they lied to women. And worse yet, he stood behind skirts of those victims of rape and that's reprehensible as a woman," Buerkle said.

Maffei did not change his tactic.

"She's against abortion, that's okay, but she's also against abortion even in the case of rape and incest.  I'm not covering that up, that's her position, so she saw an opportunity to make it so women who were raped couldn't get abortions," said Maffei.

The third candidate in the race, Green Party hopeful Ursula Rozum, called the issue a smokescreen that impedes the debate of other issues.

"It's easy to hold on to an emotional issue, and it's a lot more difficult to take on the kind of progressive policy solutions that will really turn around the economy," said Rozum.

The three candidates also offered three distinct views on the issue of health care reform

Dan Maffei, who voted for the Affordable Care Act when he was a congressman, said it did start the process of lowering health care costs. But he added more needs to be done.

"One of the things we are pioneering here in central New York is electronic medical records," said Maffei. "That's one way we can avoid repetition of different tests and things like that.  We can work with medical schools and physicians to make sure there's more primary care physicians."

Rozum thinks the Affordable Care Act, should go much farther.

"What we have now is not a health care system, it is a sick care system that is focused on insurance company profits that only go up when they deny us care. The best way to stabilized health care costs is to take those costs and put them into a Medicare for all system," said Rozum

Buerkle, on the other hand, wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, suggesting the law as it is now will impact seniors negatively.

"They cut Medicare for our current seniors by $716 billion that will dramatically effect the services that our hospitals and physicians will be able to give seniors," said the congresswoman.

All three candidates are scheduled to meet in one more televised debate on WSYR TV next week.  Maffei has declined invitations to join Buerkle and Rozum in one other televised debate as well as town hall meetings sponsored by Buerkle.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.