In Woodstock debate, six Democratic hopefuls for Congress agree on much

(Photos by Dion Ogust)

While none of the six Democratic candidates for the 19th Congressional District have any experience in running for or serving in elected office, they are on relatively the same page when it comes to defeating Republican incumbent John Faso and reversing the policies of the Trump administration.

Taking the stage on a snowy Super Bowl Sunday with a well-beyond-capacity crowd at the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center in Woodstock, February 4 to debate the issues were history teacher Jeff Beals of Woodstock, attorney David Clegg of Woodstock, attorney Antonio Delgado of Rhinebeck, business owner Brian Flynn of Elka Park, business owner Gareth Rhodes of Kerhonkson and business owner Pat Ryan of Gardiner. Voters will choose one of the six in the June 26 Democratic Primary to run against Faso, providing all gather the necessary petition signatures to earn a place on the ballot.

The moderator was Brian Hollander, editor of Woodstock Times.

How will you beat Faso?

John Faso is the “quintessential politician,” said Clegg, who has a private law practice in Kingston. “He will tell us what we want to hear and then he will turn around and vote in favor of his wealthy donor class,” he said. “John Faso is a corporate lobbyist. He was a corporate lobbyist. He continues to be a corporate lobbyist.” So, how does one beat a politician who, as Clegg points out, gets money from the Koch brothers, the healthcare industry and hedge fund managers?


“I’m coming into this race and I don’t want to be beholden to anybody,” Clegg said. “I’m doing this with grassroots fundraising and I’ve contributed substantially by my own pocket because that’s the only way that we can get this started…”

Delgado said it is a testament to the times that nobody on stage has run for political office. “We’re kind of tired of the career politicians, which is exactly what John Faso is,” he said, noting Faso moved to the area just to run for office. “To beat John Faso, it is important that you outwork him, you outraise him, that you out-organize and inspire,” said Delgado. He said he is for overturning Citizens United and publicly financed campaigns.

“I love the contrast. He’s a career politician and I’m a scrappy progressive activist who’s also created hundreds of blue-collar American jobs and I’ve actually been to Washington and gotten legislation passed,” said Flynn, who owns a medical device company.

Flynn said he fought to get the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act passed after his brother, JP, was killed on Pan Am Flight 103 when a bomb brought it down over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. He said the country can improve security through sanctions and diplomacy instead of invasions.

Rhodes said he is proud to be the only one on stage who has government experience in New York State. Rhodes worked for Governor Andrew Cuomo, assisting communities in the wake of Hurricane Irene. Rhodes is countering big-money campaign fundraising by traveling to all 163 cities and towns in a Winnebago tour he calls The Rhodes Trip.

He also started a small-dollar fundraising campaign called $19 for NY-19. “I’m proud to be at the highest percentage of low-dollar fundraising on this stage and the highest percentage of in-district fundraising on this stage.”

Ryan told of confronting Faso at a recent Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Kingston. Faso gave an answer about the future of healthcare that was so mired in the minutiae that wouldn’t affect people locally and “I wasn’t going to let him get away with that,” Ryan said. “I said, ‘John, you’re at the Chamber of Commerce meeting. Do you think that people in our community not having healthcare coverage is good for our local economy?’” Ryan said Faso replied with his talking points and when challenged, walked away from the conversation.

Beals said he wants to take a more novel approach to beating Faso. “I’d like to stand up and face John Faso as someone more representative of him than him of NY-19.” Beals said he is the average age in the district and is trying to support a family by earning the average wage. Beals said wants to put his experience as an intelligence officer in the CIA and a diplomat in the State Department up against Faso’s record.

“I want to say to John Faso that we have a distinct campaign and a distinct agenda. You represent the corporate takeover of our democracy and our district. What I want to represent is the people’s response to it.”

Fix Obamacare or leave it the way it is now?

Delgado attacked Faso for promising he would not take away Obamacare, then turning around and voting to repeal it. “I don’t know how you can look someone in the eyes, promise them something, then turn around and do something different.” Delgado said. “I am for all the options on the table. I’m not dogmatic in this approach,” he said. Delgado said his preference is to give people the option to opt in to Medicaid or Medicare.

Flynn said it brings attention to one of the problems Democrats have because “we equivocate, we triangulate, we moderate and we don’t actually say what we believe in.”

Flynn differed from Delgado by being more firm in staying “I believe in Medicare for all. Period.”

Flynn proposed a home health corps, training unemployed people in their 40s through 60s to help keep elderly people in their homes, reducing nursing home costs and provide “decent jobs and decent wages for people in our communities.”

The private health insurance system is “broken. Period,” said Rhodes, noting the cost of healthcare for employees has risen twice as much as wages. “As long as our healthcare system is about profits, not people, this will always be a problem.” Pointing to the opioid crisis that has hit close to home, he said “I’m tired of piecemeal. I’m tired of going halfway there. We need single-payer, Medicare for all and we need it today.”

Ryan said our number one responsibility is to defend the existing healthcare for millions who didn’t have it before Obamacare because it is constantly under attack. “The guiding principle for me is that there’s finally what there’s broad support in this country for is universal coverage that’s quality and affordable.” The best option Ryan sees is to support efforts to allow people to opt in to Medicare.

Beals said there’s a difference between the other candidates and what they support as a healthcare solution. “Read between the lines of what you’re being told. Not all the candidates here do support taking this vital step for our home and our community and the need is absolutely dire that we do so…” He strongly supported H.R. 676, a congressional bill that calls for expanded and improved Medicare For All.


Said Clegg, “Medicare all. No question. Medicare for all.” Clegg said his daughter was born with life-threatening congenital problems, but because his family’s insurance was acquired during the pregnancy, the insurance company decided it was a pre-existing condition. “They took away life-giving healthcare from my daughter,” Clegg said. “I will never, ever let that happen if I have anything to say about it.”

Should Congress spend $1.5 trillion on infrastructure? What projects should be done locally?

Flynn said Trump’s infrastructure plan is heavily dependent on private investment. Instead, the $1.4 trillion spent on tax breaks for the rich should be used to invest in our infrastructure. “We should invest in technology so buses can be used more efficiently…We have Uber Share but we don’t have it in the public realm.”

He also stressed investments need to be made in broadband internet access “so that communities like ours are no longer at such a sharp disadvantage.”

Rhodes said one of the biggest issues is the loss of young people who move out of communities and don’t come back. “What’s happening is our fire departments and our EMT services are unable to find new volunteers. So what happens is local towns, as a result, have to privatize the fire departments, privatize the EMT services, driving up the costs on local taxpayers.”

Ryan said in the same way we brought electricity into rural communities, we need to bring in broadband internet. “It is the equivalent in today’s economy in 2018.”

Ryan proposes a plan to bring high-speed commuter rail from New York City to Albany. “Everybody said you’re crazy. They pointed out 30 reasons why they won’t work. I get it and I don’t care,” Ryan said.

Beals said he is the only candidate who has taken a pledge to get the country off fossil fuel. “We need to do enormous and aggressive investment in solar and wind infrastructure that is going to create jobs all across our district,” Beals said. He said we need to invest in broadband internet and not let corporations get in the way.

Clegg called Trump’s proposal a shell game because it involves $200 billion in federal money and expects states, municipalities and private interests to come up with the rest.

“So it’s really just an ephemeral promise,” Clegg said. He supports a federal work program to support the decaying infrastructure while providing good-paying jobs.

Delgado said the real issue is corporate welfare because big industries are propped up with $100 billion in subsidies annually and the tax bill “only throws gasoline on the fire.”

He pointed out the agriculture industry is also suffering from a lack of infrastructure. Dairy farms, for example, no longer have the distribution network and processing plants to meet demand.

Thoughts on New York City’s land acquisition in the reservoir watersheds

Ryan perhaps scored points for honesty by departing from the usual politician response and admitting he wasn’t up to speed on the issue.

“Here’s where I give my dissertation on water filtration,” joked Beals.

He went on to say it’s important to strike the balance between protecting the watershed in the needs of individual communities. “People are very upset about too aggressive a system of water management that they feel is horning in on their ability to develop our home.”

Clegg called land acquisition to protect the watershed a good thing, but there’s always tensions when property rights are involved.

Delgado said it pains him to see the gutting of the Environmental Protection Agency when something like water protection is so important. “We have a Congressman who was at one time a lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry who is not equipped to take this fight to the halls of Congress.”

Flynn said there are small businesses in Greene County that are being prevented from growing in an effort to protect the watershed “because New York City is establishing what the rules are.” Flynn said the issue is about home rule because local communities should decide what gets done with their land.

Rhodes said a balance needs to be struck between protecting the watershed an people’s livelihood. He said communities like New Paltz that draw water from the aqueduct will be facing challenges when repairs need to be made to the infrastructure and they’ll need help from lawmakers. He said New York gives $48 billion more to the federal government than it gets back and the district needs a member of Congress that can get some of those funds to help communities in the watershed. “That’s what John Faso’s not doing. That’s what I will do in Congress,” he said.

Are school vouchers an effective way to improve student achievement?

“I think the solution for our school system is to invest in our public schools. Twenty-four percent of them are decrepit, and that is an outrage and embarrassment for our country,” Beals said. “We have to be invested in public universities as well…I believe fully in funding our public system,” he said.

“No vouchers. Plain and simple,” Delgado said. “For too long we stopped prioritizing education. We had three presidential debates. Not a single question about education.”

Delgado said his plan starts with universal Pre-Kindergarten. Loan forgiveness is important and can be done through encouraging students to perform national service and go into industries where there are shortages.

Talk of vouchers and charter schools is not only going to destroy education for our children, it will cost jobs, Flynn said. “This talk about school choice is ridiculous in communities that are rural like ours,” Flynn said. “Fifty-six percent of the people who go to a four-year college never finish, but they sure get the debt that we don’t allow them to get out of.”

We have two educational systems, said Rhodes, the first in his family to earn a four-year degree. One for the rich elite and one for everyone else. “We have to elect people to Congress who have led the life of a working-class person here in this community and here in this state.”

Ryan said he is absolutely not in favor of vouchers. “Public education is the single most important investment we can make in our communities. Period,” said Ryan, who pointed out his mother just retired as a school teacher. Ryan further noted our higher education system is “fundamentally broken” and 70 percent in NY-19 do not finish college.

Jerusalem, Afghanistan and North Korea

Candidates were asked if Jerusalem should have been recognized as the Israeli capital, how do we get out of Afghanistan and what do we do about North Korea.

In Jerusalem, Trump “never should have stuck his nose in that situation,” Clegg said, noting it is very complicated. He’d like to see a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can coexist. North Korea can be dealt with through carefully structured sanctions. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, “we have to find a way to get out,” Clegg said.

Delgado called the Jerusalem move a “significant overreach” and supports a two-state solution. On Afghanistan, Delgado is concerned about “whispers of increasing troop counts” there and said Trump “seems to just act on a whim.”

North Korea needs to be handled delicately, not with tweets that say “my button’s bigger,” Delgado said.

Flynn said it was arbitrary and inflammatory to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. On Afghanistan, Flynn said there was never a plan to exit, so now the situation needs to be stabilized and we need to encourage the moderates there to help, then exit. Flynn said we need to hold allies accountable for North Korea as well and give the country some incentive instead of aggravating with threats. “Right now, it’s all stick and no carrot,” he said.

Rhodes supports a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. In Afghanistan, we need to hold officials accountable buy revisiting the authorization for force, something that hasn’t been renewed since the wake of 9/11. The most dangerous thing about North Korea right now is Trump’s Twitter account, Rhodes said.

Ryan called the Embassy move to Jerusalem an “absolutely wrong decision.” He said we need to talk about getting out of Afghanistan, which has become “the longest war in our history.” North Korea “keeps me up at night,” said Ryan. “Tweeting our way into nuclear conflict is wrong.”

As a diplomat, Beals said he saw the result of failed policies and noted the importance of investing in the State Department and not back out of international agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord. “I’ve seen as a teacher, students in my class who have never known a life without war,” Beals said. “The only thing that produces results for our country is understanding where our values lie and where our fundamental interests lie, and remembering all the time that we cannot solve all the problems in the world but we can be true to our own values.”

The NY-19 Democratic Congressional Debate was sponsored by Ulster County Democratic Women and the Democratic committees of Woodstock, Denning, Olive, Shandaken and Hurley.