In his first post-election press conference, congressman-elect Antonio Delgado last week laid out his legislative priorities for his first year in office, including a focus on healthcare and rural economic development, as well as maintaining strong ties to his constituents through outreach and public events.
Delgado spoke to reporters on Nov. 9, three days after an election in which he unseated one-term U.S. Rep. John Faso (R-Kinderhook) to secure New York’s 19th Congressional District and help cement Democrats’ new House majority.
In January, Delgado will join fellow Democrats in Washington D.C. as the party takes control of one branch of government for the first time since the 2017 inauguration of President Donald Trump. Delgado said he plans to seek appointment to three committees — Agriculture, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Education and the Workforce — that he sees as critical to his role as an advocate for his constituents.
On the Agriculture Committee, Delgado said, he would fight for the region’s small and mid-sized farms by working to ensure access to markets for locally produced organic food. On Education, Delgado said, he hoped to address a major issue in the local job market, the lack of qualified workers for area employers, by focusing on vocational and apprenticeship programs.
“We need to think critically about how our young people, from pre-K up through high school and beyond, are given the skills they need to succeed in an ever more competitive environment,” said Delgado.
Delgado said he planned to take an expansive view of infrastructure by working for things like expanded broadband access and better cellular service which, he said, will promote economic development and entrepreneurship in the largely rural 19th. Delgado added he would advocate for more green infrastructure, both to protect the environment and to provide quality jobs for locals.
“The way we talk about infrastructure buildout is almost entirely from the vantage point of facilitating distribution of fossil fuels,” said Delgado. “We’ve got to be more focused and intentional about moving towards a green energy-based economy.”
As a freshman congressman, Delgado will likely have little opportunity to put his stamp on legislation. But, he said, he looked forward to seeking allies and working towards solutions on a signature issue of his campaign, healthcare. Delgado once he got to Washington, he would begin looking at existing legislation and potential allies for two priority initiatives — a “public option” insurance program and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices directly with major pharmaceutical companies.
“If we can get those two things in my first couple of years in office, I will feel very, very good about our success,” said Delgado.
Delgado also campaigned on a pledge of openness with and service to his constituents, attacking his opponent for dodging critics and failing to hold open town hall events on contentious issues like efforts to roll back elements of Obamacare. With the election behind him, Delgado said his first priority was to open new district offices and set up a constituent services operation to provide help to and get feedback from area residents. Delgado said he had already spoken to Faso about coordinating efforts to ensure a smooth handoff of responsibilities. Delgado said he also planned to speak with former congressman Chris Gibson, a Republican who held the seat prior to Faso’s election. Delgado praised Gibson’s constituent outreach efforts and said that he hoped the former Congressman would offer advice on how to emulate them.
“My priority is to be the best advocate I can be for folks here on the ground,” said Delgado. “First and foremost.”
In Washington, meanwhile, one of Delgado’s first votes will be an intra-party referendum on new leadership for the house. Current minority leader and former speaker Nancy Pelosi hopes to resume her leadership of the Democratic caucus. She will likely face challengers who believe it’s time for new blood. Delgado, who during the campaign said that he would not accept Pelosi’s endorsement, said he would wait until he got to Washington and acquainted himself with the dynamics in play before getting behind any candidate for leadership.
“I have not pledged my support to anyone,” said Delgado. “And nobody should be counting on my support.”
Delgado will also face a new political landscape when he arrives in Washington next year. With Democrats in control of the House, some see an opportunity to make deals with President Trump. Others see an opportunity to launch investigations into the [resident’s business dealings, connections with Russia and other issues. Delgado said he planned to hold Trump accountable for any demonstrated wrongdoing while leaving the door open to cooperation.
“I am here to serve my community,” said Delgado. “To the extent that there are opportunities to do that across the aisle, with the president, I will pursue that end. So long as it is consistent with my principles, consistent with the values that I believe the vast majority of people in this district possess, then I am all for cooperation and collaboration.”