Dems go head-to-head at debate for 21st district

A packed Bethlehem Town Hall played host to the final Democratic candidate debate for the 21st Congressional District before the Sept. 9 primary.

Four out of five of the Democrats vying for the seat of retiring Congressman Michael McNulty, D-Green Island, attended the debate, which was sponsored by Democracy for the Hudson Mohawk Region (DFHMR) and supported by Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace (BNP). Robert B. Ward, deputy director of the Rockefeller Institute, was the evening's moderator.

Albany City Democrat Joseph Sullivan was expected but did not make an appearance at the event. Sullivan did issue a statement about his absence.

First, I noticed in the advance publicity for the forum, that DFHMR had already endorsed Phil Steck, Sullivan stated. "Second, I knew that the audience would largely be made up of aides to the four other candidates, and members of your [DFHMR and BNP] two groups, who would not be receptive to my message or positions on the issues. Few minds to be changed or votes to be gotten here."

The debate covered a wide array of topics but focused specifically on policies such as foreign and domestic issues, energy, health care, education, campaign finance and even allowed for a section where the candidates asked one another a question.

Democratic candidates Tracey Brooks of Coeymans, Darius Shahinfar of Albany, Phil Steck of Colonie, and Paul Tonko of Amsterdam fielded questions for more than two hours.

The candidates were each given a two-minute introduction and closing statement and were limited to one-minute answers, which was harder for some candidates than others. On multiple occasions throughout the night Tonko was cut off and asked to stop speaking.

The rules of the debate allowed a candidate to give a 30-second rebuttal if they were specifically named during another candidate's answer, something that Steck took advantage of by taking jabs at opponents Tonko and Brooks.

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