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At least five candidates dive into race for New York's 22nd district

Payne Horning
Steve Wells, a Republican candidate running in the 22nd Congressional District, gathers input from local business owners like Tom Terwilliger, right, who owns the Finger Lakes Tasting Room in Cortland.

The race in New York's 22nd Congressional District is considered by the Cook Political Report to beone of the most competitive in the nation. At least five candidates are seeking the seat that three-term Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld) is vacating at the end of the year. The district stretches from the eastern part of Oswego County to the Mohawk valley to the Southern Tier and includes all or part of eight counties.

While making the rounds at Cortland-area businesses recently, Republican candidate Steve Wells said he is running to unleash businesses from what he calls excessive state and federal government regulations. He said it has made upstate New York highly uncompetitive.

"We’ve had 30 years of bad economic policy in central and upstate New York that has led to an erosion of businesses leaving New York and it didn’t have to happen this way," Wells said.

Wells, who owns the Syracuse-based American Food and Vending Corporation, said policies and politicians in Albany have been part of that problem, like his opponent Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford).

Credit Claudia Tenney for Congress / claudiatenney.com

"She’s surely not part of the solution," Wells said. "It’s real easy to just throw stones and I know she’s had a habit of throwing stones, but it’s not getting things done. That’s the bottom line."   

Wells and Tenney have traded multiple barbs over past campaign donations and debates. She was elected in 2010 at the height of the conservative Tea Party wave. A lawyer and business owner, Tenney has also been an outspoken critic of many of her Republican colleagues.

"She and I have had a disconnect on how to govern for a number of years," said Anthony Picente, the executive of Oneida County -- the largest county in the district. He has endorsed Wells in the race, partially because of his disdain for Tenney.

Picente said Tenney has stood against several locally-led initiatives, like the 2013 casino revenue settlement between the Oneida Indian Nation, Oneida and Madison Counties and New York state.

"In the leadership that's around, we’ve seen some things get accomplished over the last several years because we have worked together. She’s not a part of any of that and that’s an issue," Picente said.

The Oneida Indian Nation is supporting Tenney's opponents in this primary through the Grow the Economy PAC. It did the same thing in 2014 when she challenged Hanna in the primary.

Hamilton College government professor Philip Klinkner said her "maverick" behavior has damaged relationships with other party leaders as well. She lost an endorsement on her home turf when the Oneida County Republican Committee voted to support Wells this February.

"There’s no love lost between her and local Republicans," Klinkner said. "But the issue is not how well she does in the county committee meetings. The issue is how well she does in the primary and I think given the strong race she ran against the incumbent in 2014, I think you’ve got to say she is favored to win the primary."  

Klinkner said Tenney is the favorite to win the Republican primary because of her strong name ID and because he thinks the district's Republicans are moving further right. Tenney agrees.

"I have a strong conservative record. I’m very strong on guns. I’m pro-life. I’m all that things Republicans stand for as a platform," Tenney said. "I’m a constitutionalist and a common-sense business owner. I think that’s what people recognize."

The third Republican in the race, George Phillips, is dean of students at a Catholic high school in Binghamton. He said the sparring between Wells and Tenney is the opposite of what voters and the country want.

Credit George Phillips for Congress
Republican congressional candidate George Phillips.

"I think we need to lead in ideas and I think that’s what’s lacking now," Phillips said. "Politics is becoming too personal, there’s too much fighting."

Philips said his experience on the the Republican ticket for this district in 2010 before the boundaries were changed will aid his campaign.

"I'm battle-tested in a full general election," Phillips said.

On the Democratic side, the national Democratic Party is backing Broome County Legislator Kim Myers, a businesswoman whose father founded Dick's Sporting Goods. Klinkner said Myers likely has that establishment support in part because of her ability to self-finance her campaign.

"I think parties like to have self-funders -- people who are willing to throw in their own money," Klinker said. "I think the profile she has: a woman, somebody with links to business, somebody who's not necessarily a career politician, they think that sort of profile runs pretty well."

Credit Kim Myers Broome County Legislator
Kim Myers is a Democratic congressional candidate.

Former Oneida County Legislator David Gordon is also trying to compete in the Democratic primary, but his status is in question as he challenges a ruling from the New York State Board of Elections that his application's signatures were insufficient. Gordon said he would be a better symbol for the party than someone with a wealthy background.

"At this point in time, with all of the social issues going on in this country, I think it’s more important that we get people involved in this process who know the everyday struggles of the people who inhabit this great district," Gordon said.

Even if Gordon is successful at getting on the Democratic primary ballot, Klinker gives the edge to Myers because of her financial and party establishment support. He predicts that a general election race featuring Tenney and Myers would likely turn the 22nd District blue.
"On the one hand you have a district that is slightly more conservative than the national vote, on the other hand I think the forces are shaping up in this particular election to move it a little bit in the direction of the Democrats, so you’re going to have a really close, hard-fought race in November," Klinkner said.

Myers did not return multiple requests for an interview. Libertarian David Pasick is also running.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.