Republican John Faso and Democrat Zephyr Teachout, candidates for New York’s 19th Congressional District seat, will face off in a series of three debates starting next week. But none of the meetings will take place within the geographic confines of the sprawling upstate district; Faso’s campaign team says they’re pushing for a more robust schedule of head to head debates.
Faso of Kinderhook served eight terms in the state Assembly, representing portions of what is now the 19th Congressional District. He served as Assembly minority leader from 1998 to 2002. After failed bids for New York State Comptroller and Governor, Faso left politics to become a partner in the national law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. His opponent, Teachout, is a professor at Fordham Law School with a background in grass-roots activism. Teachout gained a statewide following and national recognition among progressives when she in 2014 primaried incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo and garnered an impressive 34 percent of the vote. The two are running for the seat being vacated by popular Republican incumbent Chris Gibson.
The debates begin on Thursday, Sept. 15 when public radio station WAMC will host a forum at The Linda theater at 339 Central Ave. in Albany. The hour-long debate is scheduled for 1 p.m. and is free and open to the public. The forum will also be broadcast on WAMC. On Thursday, Oct. 13, at 8 p.m. the pair will meet again for an on-air debate at the studios of public TV station WMHT. The event is co-sponsored by WMHT and the Albany Times Union. A final in-studio debate is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 24 when Faso and Teachout will appear on YNN/Time Warner Cable public affairs show Capital Tonight at 7 and 10 p.m.
Teachout said she looks forward to the debates as a way to contrast her stance on issues like fracking, equal pay for women and limiting the influence of corporate money in politics with her Republican opponent’s. Faso has hit hard and early with accusations that Teachout, who moved to the district from Brooklyn last year, is a carpetbagger and a radical leftist. Teachout said that the debates would offer an opportunity to move past “name calling” to substantive issues.
“There are some very real differences between myself and John Faso,” said Teachout. “The real purpose of these debates is to highlight those differences so voters can make up their mind.”
But Faso’s campaign is accusing Teachout of trying duck a more extensive series of debates by pre-emptively issuing a press release agreeing to three. Faso campaign spokesman Jerry McKinstry said that the two campaigns had never reached an agreement on the number of debates before Teachout issued the release. McKinstry added that Teachout’s campaign had apparently declined at least one offer — by League of Women Voters of the Oneonta Area — to host a debate within the confines of the district. McKinstry described Faso as a “real policy guy” who looked forward to demonstrating his deep understanding of the issues on the debate stage.
“Our view is, the more debates, in more places around the district the better,” said McKinstry. “We believe in John’s message and we believe it’s important for voters to hear that message.”
Teachout’s campaign responded to the criticism saying that the candidate had deliberately chosen a debate schedule designed to reach as many voters as possible in a district that covers all or parts of 11 upstate counties. Campaign spokeswoman Alexis Grenell said that by partnering with media organizations like WAMC and Time Warner Cable, the campaign sought to ensure that voters in all corners of the district would have a chance to watch or listen to the debates in real time or at their convenience online.
“Zephyr believes deeply in engaging voters and making sure that as many people as possible have an opportunity to hear from the candidates,” said Grenell. “That’s why we’re pleased to have a variety of media partners team up to maximize exposure and reach the most people in the sprawling 19th Congressional District.”