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24th Congressional District candidates debate who would be best against Katko

Eric Kingson Campaign, Colleen Deacon campaign, Steve Williams Campaign
Democrat candidates for the 24th Congressional District (l-r): Eric Kingson, Colleen Deacon, Stevve Williams

Democrats in the 24th Congressional District decide this week who should run against Rep. John Katko, the Republican who has represented the four-county district, centered in Syracuse, for the last two years. The three candidates, who will be on the June 28 primary ballot, squared off in two debates in recent days.

Colleen Deacon, former staffer for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Syracuse University professor Eric Kingson, known for his work with Social Security, and Steve Williams, a Syracuse attorney and military veteran, agree on most of the issues. All support a ban on hydrofracking and tougher gun control laws. They’re against the Trans Pacific Partnership and a bigger U.S. military presence in the Middle East.

But each have a unique tone and set of experiences that offers voters a choice: a Democratic Party establishment candidate, a progressive in the mold of Bernie Sanders and a political outsider. These differences were reflected in an exchange regarding campaign finance reform during a Time Warner Cable News debate.

All want to campaign finance reform and the Citizens United Supreme Court Decision overturned. It’s how each candidate is personally dealing with outside money that separates them.

Deacon is backed by the party establishment with endorsements ranging from Sen. Charles Schumer to Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, also known as the DCCC. Deacon says that would have no impact on her independence in office.

"I am always going to be beholden only to the people of the 24th district. What the folks in D.C. want is not what I am concerned with at all,” said Deacon.

Credit MemphisCVB / Flickr

Politicians like Bernie Sanders, and the group Democracy for America, have offered help to Kingson, who says their greater goal mitigates the fact that they’re from Washington.

"It’s a progressive side of Congress. It’s also a side that’s very clear about putting an end to campaign finance,” said Kingson.

Williams says he's the only candidate who isn’t getting any cash from Washington, and all he would accept is an endorsement from presumptive democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

"I’m an independent thinker looking out for the folks of this district. And the interest of this district doesn’t always align with these political organizations in D.C. perfectly,” said Williams.

And that distinction was the source of the only hint of nastiness between the three. Several times during the Time Warner debate and a WSYR Newschannel 9 debate, Williams criticized Deacon’s connections to the Democratic Party leadership, in particular the DCCC.

“Listening to Colleen and you’ll notice she didn’t answer the question and she repeats the DCCC talking points. I’ve seen those talking points and that’s what she’s told to say,” said Williams.

Deacon’s rebuttal.

"I don’t know what he’s talking about. If he says he’s seen the DCCC talking points, then maybe he’s talking to the DCCC, you’d have to ask him. I have no idea what he’s talking about that," said Deacon.

While candidates reflected mostly on national issues in the debates, the future of the Fitzpatrick Nuclear Power Plant and more than 600 jobs in Oswego County loomed large in the Time Warner debate. All candidates suggest that nuclear energy needs to be a bridge in a world where renewable energy is the future, but it was the nitty gritty that brought out contrasts.

Deacon suggested there’s no connection between the closing of Fitzpatrick in Oswego with the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant north of New York City, despite the fact that are both owned by Entergy.

“We need to look at them at two separate issues. But we need to keep these two power plants open until we have an alternative ready to go,” said Deacon.

But Williams attacked.

“Colleen has a habit with answering a question with, ‘we have to take a look at’ when she doesn’t have the answer. The answer is they are completely connected. The two plants are owned by the same company. They make good profits in New York. They don’t make good profits here,” said Williams.

Kingson didn’t get in the fray but admitted the jobs at stake and nuclear energy create a political no-win situation.

“People will lose jobs eventually whether it’s as Ms. Deacon or Mr. Williams says over time. These plants will have to be closed. Nuclear power in the current state ultimately is dangerous,” said Kingson.

The 24th District includes all of Onondaga, Cayuga, and Wayne Counties and the western portion of Oswego County. Only registered Democrats can vote in Tuesday’s primary. Polls open in upstate New York at 12 p.m.

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.