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Katko, Balter spar in first debate for 24th Congressional District race

U.S. House of Representatives/Julio Urrutia

The first debate in the race for New York’s 24th Congressional District was held Monday in Syracuse. Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) and Democratic challenger Dana Balter crystalized key campaign points in a debate held by syracuse.com.

The future of the Affordable Care Act, and how to fund it, remains one of the core issues of this campaign. During the debate, Katko said he supports insurance market reforms, while retaining some elements of the ACA. Balter wants to improve it, keeping health care choices for now, with a phased-in approach to  the program known as Medicare for All. And she said it would be funded by rescinding the 2017 tax cuts and raising corporate taxes.

“95% of households will save out of pocket on health care,” Balter said

And that’s what Katko had issues with.

“She’s going to raise your taxes, and save you money,” Katko said. When’s the last time the government saved you money?”

The candidates also went separate ways on coronavirus relief legislation. Katko stood by a $2 trillion proposal by the congressional Problem Solvers Caucus, that is widely seen as impassable. Balter supporting a revised Heroes Act that is also not thought to be politically viable.

Where candidates got a little testy was the issue of campaign advertising.

“He has run a campaign of slanderous, sleazy ads, full of misogyny and racism,” said Balter. “And he is doing it following Donald Trump’s playbook, trying to provoke fear in the voters."

Katko defends ads which attack Balter’s stand on bail reform, health care, and the use of campaign funds.

“It’s not slanderous to say those things. Those are facts,” Katko said. “You can deflect all you want. But the bottom line is I don’t think voters aren’t being fooled.  You’re a tax and spend liberal and that’s what those commercials are showing.”

Katko’s campaign has repeatedly accused Balter of a crime by drawing a salary from her campaign, which Katko reiterated during Monday’s debate. But while Balter did violate election law, it does not amount to a crime. The Federal Election Commission allows candidates to be paid by their campaign, but only after a state’s deadline for primary elections has passed. In New York, the deadline was April of 2020. Balter began drawing a salary in April 2019, a violation of FEC rules. The campaign was notified of the violation in August of that year and Balter paid the campaign back. Balter has taken a salary from her campaign since April of this year, which is within FEC rules, which were designed to allow more candidates to run for office.

"Candidates are permitted to draw salary from their campaign, because we need regular people to run for office,” she said. “We can’t let Congress just be for people who are wealthy enough to take off a year from work.”

Recent polls show the race in a statistical dead heat in the 24th District, which covers all of Onondaga, Cayuga, Wayne counties and the western part of Oswego County.

Katko and Balter will hold two more debates. One will air Tuesday at 7 p.m. on CNYCentral. The final debate will air Sunday, October 25, on WSYR-TV.

Jason has served as WRVO's news director in some capacity since August 2017. As news director, Jason produces hourly newscasts, and helps direct local news coverage and special programming. Before that, Jason hosted Morning Edition on WRVO from 2009-2019. Jason came to WRVO in January of 2008 as a producer/reporter. Before that, he spent two years as an anchor/reporter at WSYR Radio in Syracuse.
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.