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Steve Williams on the Campbell Conversations

WRVO File Photo
Steve Williams is a Democratic candidate running for New York's 24th Congressional District seat

The 24th congressional district, a seat currently held by first-term Republican John Katko, promises to provide a lively and competitive race this coming November.  Three Democratic challengers have emerged, each emphasizing different strengths of background and expertise. 

This week on the Campbell Conversations, Grant Reeher completes his interviews with each of the three challengers with a discussion with Steve Williams, a former Navy officer in the JAG Corps, and now a lawyer in private practice in Syracuse.  Williams describes the differences between his policy positions and those of the incumbent, and argues that the incumbent is actually more conservative than he might first appear. 

  Interview Highlights

On why he's running for Congress

I'm not a career politician. I'm a veteran and an attorney. But I've been watching jobs bleed from central New York since I moved here 22 years ago, and I don't think that's happening by any accident. I think that's happening because of policy coming out of Washington D.C. So, I want to run to fight against those policies and to do everything I can to bring jobs back to central New York. I think that's the most important issue to the folks of this district. 

What policies do you see as a problem and what policies would you push to try to fix the problem?

There are other issues beyond jobs, but to focus on jobs for a moment, our nation has entered into one free trade agreement after another with other nations that intentionally try to manipulate the value of their currency down, which puts the American worker at a distinct disadvantage. This has allowed major corporations to shift their jobs from the United States overseas, it increases their profits but it puts American workers out of work. And it leaves us with nothing but service oriented jobs that are minimum wage jobs. Think about Syracuse China. It was here for over 100 years. As soon as Libby bought it, they moved it to Asia. Those jobs are now in Asia. That's just one example of what I'm talking about. There's another free trade agreement on the table, that's the TransPacific Partnership. I would oppose that. We need to be focusing on jobs of the future for this area. We see that with Gov. Cuomo and the Upstate Revitalization Initiative. He's investing in jobs of the future. I think that's a step in the right direction. We also need to work hard to connect our universities to the workforce. The number one employer in the area is healthcare. We need to connect the healthcare employers with our universities so that the universities know what students need to major in so they can get jobs. 

What other issues will you be pushing aside from jobs and the local economy?

Number one, we have the issue of climate change. I think that's very important. John Katko is a climate change denier. I've read every interview he's given since he was elected and since he's been running, and when he was asked if he believes in climate change, his answer was 'Well, you know, I don't know if that's a real thing and because I don't know if it's a real thing, I don't think the United States should take the lead on the issue.' Well, he's a climate denier. Alright? I believe that climate change is a real thing, and I believe we need to fight against it and we need to be a leader in the world, like we recently were in Paris with this new agreement to fight climate change. Another is a woman's right to choose. I believe it's a woman's right to choose what to do with her own body. This comes in various issues, for example, the Planned Parenthood issue. John Katko, when he was a candidate, seeking election, he promised that he would never vote to defund Planned Parenthood. After he got elected, he did that very thing three times. 

Rep. Katko's has a reputation as being a moderate within the Republican Party, and he was one of three Republicans to vote against a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and to defund Planned Parenthood.

The Republican Party knows that John Katko is very vulnerable. This district voted Democrat in every presidential election year. They know this is the most important cycle of his holding office, and they're afraid of losing this seat. They're strategizing to make him appear like a moderate. What do I mean by that? The only time John Katko votes with the Democrats is when it doesn't count. Whenever it counts, he votes the party line. One example is the vote to repeal Obamacare. We all know the President of the United State would veto that legislation. The Republicans also know they don't have the votes to override a veto. So the entire vote on Obamacare was nothing more than political theater. And when it's a vote like that and it's just political theater, and everyone knows it's not going to change anything, they give John a pass and he votes with the Democrats so that he can come back to the district and say "Look at me. I'm a moderate.'  but it's all political theater.  

On the policy differences between him and the other Democratic candidates, Eric Kingson and Colleen Deacon

In the limited exposure to the other candidates, I can tell you that they're fine folks, good people with a lot of knowledge. And in my limited exposure to them, I don't know of any policy differences that we have. They might be out there, I just don't know  what they are at this time. But I think I am uniquely qualified to take on this position in that I have experience that they don't that I think are important in this day and age. Number one, I'm the only candidate running on the Democratic side who is an attorney. A lot of people play down the importance of being an attorney, but if when you represent the district as a Congressional representative, they're making law, they're analyzing law, it involves the law. Number two, I'm the only veteran running for this office. I'm the only one who has served this country. So, I have a certain sense as to what the military is about and I think that is very important in this day and age when  we're in constant conflict around the world. And number three, of all the candidates, I'm the only one with private sector experience. John Katko's worked in government his whole life, Colleen has worked in government and Eric has worked at Syracuse University. I've been running a law firm with my partners, which is a small business, for over 20 years. I've had to deal with the issues of our day in running a small business. 

Among the three Democratic presidential candidates seeking the nomination, is there one you support?

I support Hillary Clinton. She's very tough, she's very strong, she has the history. I support her. 

If you had to pick a Republican candidate, which one would you most like to see in the White House?

If I had to live with one of the one of the Republicans, it would probably be John Kasich. He's got the most experience, he's got the best resume, and he's the most moderate. 

Grant Reeher is Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute and a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is also creator, host and program director of “The Campbell Conversations” on WRVO, a weekly regional public affairs program featuring extended in-depth interviews with regional and national writers, politicians, activists, public officials, and business professionals.