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Preview: Katko, Deacon hold first debate in race for the 24th Congressional District

Catherine Loper
Democrat Colleen Deacon, left, and incumbent Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) at the WRVO studios in Syracuse for their first debate in the race for New York's 24th Congressional District

By now, most central New Yorkers have seen several political ads from both candidates running for the 24th Congressional District. Incumbent Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) has criticized his Democratic opponent Colleen Deacon for what he calls a lack of knowledge of national and international security. Deacon has tried to tie Katko to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. 

Katko and Deacon sat down with Grant Reeher, host of the Campbell Conversations on WRVO, for their first debate of the campaign. In this excerpt, the candidates are asked by Reeher about their messaging during the campaign. 

Note: The full debate will air on WRVO Public Media Thursday Oct. 20, at 6 p.m. Full audio and transcript will be posted online at that time. Repeat airings will occur Saturday Oct. 22, at 6 a.m. and Sunday Oct. 23, at 6 p.m. 

John Katko (JK): The bottom line is, the national security issues are probably one of the most preeminent issues facing our nation right now. That and jobs and the economy. And anybody running for public office needs to have, I think, somewhat of a working knowledge of the issues, and have some opinions on them. So, I think it's incumbent upon anybody running for national office, now don't forget this isn't running for you know local offices, this is running to be a member of Congress, where day in and day out you can be making votes and issuing votes on national security decisions, and and she's not immune to this process. She's worked for a senator for six years so she's been exposed to the information on a daily basis. So I think you need to have a little bit more knowledge, a little bit more of a priority placed on it than she has and that on the other hand I look at myself. I went to Washington I got placed...

Grant Reeher (GR): Let me interrupt you there with a follow up. So the question was why do you think she doesn't have the knowledge? On what basis are you making that?

(JK): Her answers and her and her lack of discussion on the matter. She doesn't have anything on her website to discuss the issue or even what her position is. When she's asked the question, "What will we do about ISIS?" and she basically says "I really don't have a position." Those are her words. That's not anything we took and doctored up. And those are her words. And that was eight months ago and since that time she's had an awful lot of time to try to develop an answer. And she just hasn't.

(GR): OK. And I'll get to Ms. Deacon for a response to this in a minute but I did want to ask you another follow up about this. Don't you think that you yourself have learned a lot about this issue through your experience being in Congress, and the committee work that you've done and so on. Wouldn't you think that Colleen Deacon would do the same if she were in office?

(JK): Well, of course, yeah of course. But also don't forget, she's worked for a senator for six years. She's been exposed to these issues every day. When you're working in a congressional office or a Senate office, you're exposed to these issues on a daily basis. The information flow that comes across your desk is quite significant. And you know my staff knows more about these issues than I do. And her is a staffer for a senator, I would presume that she knew more about these issues.

(GR): So Ms. Deacon, will get into some specific questions about foreign affairs later in the conversation. But for now, can you explain briefly but specifically, how you've gone about learning about national and international security as a candidate for Congress.

Colleen Deacon (CD): Sure. Well, first I want to you know talk about what John Katko just said. I mean he said I'm somebody who doesn't have the knowledge about foreign policy when he took a snippet of my answer and selectively edited what I said. Actually what I said on your show, Grant, and you can attest that that wasn't my answer. I had a full response that he just took a portion of to make it sound like I was saying something that I was not saying. Frankly you know he feels like he has to mislead the voters and you know try to smear my record as somebody who is...

(GR): And let me interrupt again in the same way. But can you tell me how you've gone about learning about national and international security issues as a candidate? What's been your way of learning about this?

(CD): Sure. So we do a number of conference calls with generals, with folks on the ground, you know hearing directly from people who are involved with these issues and you know developing strategy for our country. I haven't wavered from my position of foreign policy. I have said this entire campaign we have to make sure we're keeping America safe, both at home and abroad. And I've mentioned you know a number of ways that we can do that. John Katko just feels like he needs to misrepresent me because he doesn't want to run on his record. He doesn't want to run on the fact that he doesn't support common sense gun legislation that would keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. I mean that's something that we should implement right away and he refuses to support it. So I mean if you want to talk about ways we can address this issue that is a perfect example of how Congressman Katko stands with his party and refuses to support legislation that would prevent terrorists from getting their hands on a gun.