Registered Democrats will go to the polls on Tuesday to choose their champion in a bid to unseat U.S. Rep. John Faso (R-Kinderhook) in November.
The primary vote will end a seven-candidate intra-party scrum that has stretched over 18 months, dozens of candidate forums, several million dollars in campaign expenditures and many thousands of door-knocks among the pool of roughly 150,000 Democrats who will decide the contest.
Wooing a party base fired up by the election of Donald Trump and Faso’s perceived vulnerability, the candidates have jostled for the “true progressive” mantle while trying to make the case that they can prevail in a congressional district where success has dangled just out of reach for three election cycles. On paper, New York’s 19th Congressional District should be attainable for Democrats. Voter enrollment is split almost evenly among Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters. The district was formed in 2012 by the merger of the old 20th and 22nd districts. The new district was mapped out by a panel of judges after state lawmakers could not agree on its composition. It encompasses all of Ulster, Greene, Columbia, Delaware, Otsego, Schoharie and Sullivan counties and portions of Broome, Dutchess, Montgomery and Rensselaer counties.
In 2012 the district broke for Obama while sending Republican Chris Gibson to Congress. In 2016 Trump beat out Hillary Clinton by seven percentage points. Meanwhile, a succession of Democratic hopefuls have tried and failed to win the Congressional seat. In 2014 and 2016, Democratic candidates Sean Eldridge and Zephyr Teachout were dogged by allegations of carpetbagging, leaving party leaders in the region wary of entrusting the race to someone without suitably deep roots in the district.
The current race began to take shape in early 2017 when Antonio Delgado, an attorney with mega-law firm Akin Gump announced his candidacy. Since then, nine candidates have announced plans to seek the Democratic nomination. Two of them, healthcare executive Sue Sullivan and IT specialist Steve Brisee, have since dropped out. The remaining seven have spent the past year making their pitch to fellow Democrats.
In terms of policy, differences are minor. All have expressed support for progressive policies, like an assault weapons ban and healthcare reform that are designed to appeal to the party base. Five the seven have endorsed the “Medicare For All” concept. Two others, Delgado and Pat Ryan, have endorsed a different version of reform that they’ve pitched as an interim step towards a single-payer system.
Beals, 41, is a Harvard graduate who moved to Woodstock from Putnam County in 2015 and works as a history teacher at the private Woodstock Day School. He previously worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. State Department. He served as a diplomat in Iraq and elsewhere in Middle East. Despite his “deep state” credentials, Beals is running as an outsider in the mold of Bernie Sanders. He has secured an endorsement from the Sanders-aligned Justice Democrats PAC. He casts the current political climate not as a clash between political parties but a contest between people and corporate power. His willingness to aggressively highlight differences between himself and his rivals has earned the ire of some local party officials who have sought to prevent the crowded primary from devolving into a mud-slinging battle royale.
Clegg is a 65-year-old trial attorney who has practiced in Ulster County for the past 37 years. He holds a law degree from SUNY Buffalo and a master’s in divinity from Yale. He is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. Clegg has positioned himself on the left of the seven-candidate field embracing Medicare For All and touting his record of taking on corporate polluters and Walmart in court. Clegg is also running on a long record of service to the community in Ulster County. He has served on the board of Family of Woodstock, where he helped found the Darmstadt homeless shelter and the board at Clinton Avenue United Methodist Church. Clegg served two terms on the county’s board of health commissioners and currently serves as head of the county’s Human Rights Commission. He holds an endorsement from Indivisible Ulster, a grass roots political action group best known for organizing weekly protests outside of Faso’s Kingston Office. He has also been endorsed by Ulster Publishing (that’s us).
Collier is a 34-year-old agricultural economist from Cooperstown. Collier entered the race in February — after returning to the district from Washington D.C. — the last candidate to do so. She is the only woman in the race and she’s earned support from Emily’s List, a PAC dedicated to electing female candidates and financial support from U.S. Kirsten Gillibrand’s Off the Sidelines PAC. On the campaign trail, Collier has emphasized her rural, working-class roots growing up in farm family and working as a waitress to put herself through Cornell University. Collier is the only candidate who grew up in the conservative, rural northern end of the district where many local party leaders believe the primary campaign will be decided.
Delgado, 41, is a native of Schenectady married to a Woodstock native. The couple moved from Montclair, N.J. to Rhinebeck shortly before he announced plans to enter the race. Delgado is also the only person of color in the race. Delgado has backing from Citizen Action of New York, a left-leaning social, racial and economic justice group. Delgado also has the endorsement of the Dutchess County Democratic Committee — the only county committee in the district to publicly embrace a candidate in the primary race. Delgado is a former Rhodes Scholar with a master’s degree in philosophy and political science from Oxford and law degree from Harvard. Delgado was an associate in the New York City office of the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Delgado was the first candidate to enter the race and has remained in the top tier of fundraising among the seven candidates.
Flynn, 48, is a Rochester native (the Western New York city) who lives in the Greene County Community of Elka Park. He is an entrepreneur who founded a company that makes medical devices. He was not registered to vote in the 19th Congressional District as of November 2016. Flynn touts his experience as a businessman and job creator as well as an activist. His brother, J.P., was a 21-year-old Syracuse University student when he was killed in the 1998 terrorist bombing and he’s spent years lobbying in Washington for stronger counter-terrorist legislation. On the campaign trail Flynn has been a strong advocate of Medicare for All, positioning himself as the most well-funded progressive candidate.
Rhodes, 29, was raised in Rifton’s Bruderhof religious community. He left in 2011 for college and subsequently worked as a press aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He returned to the district in 2017 after taking a leave of absence from Harvard Law School to enter the race. Rhodes has spent much of the campaign traveling to all 163 municipalities in the district in a 1999 Winnebago to meet with voters. In a race where candidates has sought to position themselves as true progressives on big national issues, Rhodes has focused much of his pitch on addressing district issues, like a lack of maternity wards in Delaware County and lack of well-paying jobs throughout the region.
Ryan, 36, is a Kingston native and graduate of the United States Military Academy. He left the Army as a captain in 2010 after serving two tours in Iraq as an infantry battalion intelligence officer. He later earned a master’s in security studies from Georgetown University and founded a company to intelligence analysis software for use by the military and law enforcement. Ryan lived and worked in Manhattan prior to purchasing a home in Gardiner in 2017. Ryan has campaigned on his record of military service, which he believes has left him well equipped to connect with voters across the district’s regional and political spectrum. Ryan has staked out gun control as a signature issue calling for a reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban, universal background checks and repeal of an amendment that prohibits federal agencies from studying gun violence.
Polls will be open June 26 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Dutchess County, and noon to 9 p.m. in Ulster, Columbia, Delaware, Greene, Otsego, Schoharie, Sullivan, Broome, Montgomery and Rensselaer counties.
Earlier this month, Ulster Publishing reporters trailed each of the candidates. Read the series.