Five of the seven congressional candidates for the 21st District looking to replace retiring Congressman Michael McNulty came out to discuss health care issues in what can only be described as a spirited, and at times tense, debate.
Democratic candidate Darius Shahinfar and Republican candidate James Burhmaster were not in attendance at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany. Shahinfar could not attend because he was at Albany Medical Center with his wife who was giving birth to their second child.
Buhrmaster was not there because of his obligations as a member of the Schenectady County Legislature. He was attending a public hearing on the Schenectady County Community College budget, and a meeting of the county legislature at the time.
The Capital District Alliance for Universal Healthcare, Inc.(CDAUH) sponsored the debate and co-sponsors included Social Responsibilities Council of FUUSA and the Hunger Action Network of New York State.
The debate lasted for about two hours and although some of the discussion deviated from the topic at hand, the debate centered around health care issues and allowed each candidate ample time to share their views.
Candidate and Coeymans Democrat Tracey Brooks spoke first; followed by a prepared statement from Albany Democrat Shahinfar; Colonie Democrat Phil Steck; Albany Democrat Joseph Sullivan; Amsterdam Democrat Paul Tonko; and Saratoga Republican Steven Vasquez.
Each candidate was given an equal opportunity to introduce themselves and highlight their views and then asked a round of questions selected by the sponsors of the debate. The final half hour of the debate was reserved for questions from the crowd.
Although the debate began in high spirits and intermittent laughter, it quickly turned serious and even contentious at times.
The main point of difference between all the candidates during the debate was whether they supported single-payer health coverage. When asked yes or no for House Resolution 676, which would give universal health care with single-payer financing, the five candidates had different reasons, but responded as follows: