Even before the 20th Congressional District candidates have officially squared off, both campaigns have debated the process of setting up debates.
Incumbent Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, is planning to meet challenger Jim Fischer, R-Ballston Spa, for three debates, but details are still be finalized on the third. Each campaign has chided the other for a lack of communication over scheduling public forums. Fischer also isn’t pleased with only the three debates being scheduled and is pushing for Tonko to debate in each county he represents.
Two debates have been agreed upon between the candidates. The first will be broadcast live on WMHT on Oct. 9 at 8 p.m. and a panel of journalists to lead the debate, along with questions sent through social media. The League of Women Voters is hosting the next debate, which will be held at the Clifton Park Public Library on Oct. 23 at 6:30 p.m.
A third debate is targeted for Oct. 28 in the City of Albany, according to Tonko’s office, but it had not been finalized before Spotlight News went press.
Fischer had wanted to hold a forum across each of the five counties in the 20th Congressional District — Albany, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady — during congress’ recess from Aug. 18 through the first week of September.
“Aside from staged events and partisan barbecues, voters deserve a side-by-side discussion of ways to tackle key issues,” Fischer said in a prepared statement Wednesday, Aug. 20. “Denying voter forums for the entire congressional vacation is bad enough given the crises at hand. Already limiting a fall campaign season debate schedule to three ignores huge swaths of a district dramatically revamped in 2012 and is simply unacceptable.”
Tonko’s campaign had chimed in after Fischer called for the five summer debates, and pointed out debates had already been scheduled for later this year.
“Congress-man Tonko has already agreed to two debates with his opponent,” said Sean Magers, spokesman for Tonko, in a prepared statement Wednesday, Aug. 20. “In the meantime, he will continue the job he was elected to do — listen to his constituents, represent the needs of the Capital Region in the halls of Congress and work to enact policies that create jobs and expand the middle class.”
Holding debates during the end of the summer would have been atypical of area elections, with most usually occurring closer to Election Day.
Magers said Tonko typically attends one to three debates each election cycle, along with town hall style meetings and roundtables throughout each year. He also pointed to other members of Congress representing similarly sized districts having similar debate schedules.
He added Tonko would continue holding “countless public events to discuss wide ranging issues” important to Capital District residents.
“Last August, Congressman Tonko organized or attended more events than any of his Democratic colleagues,” said Magers. During last year’s summer break, he said, Tonko attended around four to five events each day.
Fischer has repeatedly blasted Tonko for his legacy being the “death of the American dream” in campaign emails and press releases.
Fischer has pointed to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted this month, which had about 75 percent of respondents not confident the life for “our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us.” This was reportedly the highest negative response the question has garnered in the poll’s history.
“Voters I speak with know we are on the wrong track,” Fischer said in a statement. “We need a robust discussion of how to restore the American Dream with simpler policies focused on competing choices of healthcare, lower taxes and investments in our infrastructure and education.”
Magers said he would not response to “hyperbolic ‘doom and gloom’ attacks” focusing on problems and not offering solutions.
“Tonko is better equipped to move the region forward because he meets with New Yorkers each and every day he is back home to listen and take their concerns to Washington,” Magers said in a statement to Spotlight News. “There, he works with both parties to craft legislation that aims to create quality jobs, provide opportunity for the middle class and those struggling to enter it, and ensure we balance the budget the right way instead of hitting our most vulnerable and underserved populations.”
Fischer’s campaign manager, Michele Baker, said he is planning to release his economic plan to increase jobs across the region in September.
“When you have someone like Jim who is new and excited and has fresh ideas he will bring those with him and work hard for us,” said Baker.
Tonko is seeking his fourth two-year term in Congress and has defeated three different Republican challengers over the years, along with an Independence candidate when he first ran for his seat.
Tonko, a lifelong resident of Amsterdam, was president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority before joining Congress. He also served for 25 years in the New York State Assembly. He graduated from Clarkson University with a degree in mechanical and industrial engineering.
Fischer was raised in Schenectady and graduated from Niskayuna High School in 1979. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics, with an American history minor, at SUNY Cortland. He founded his own business, Crystal Clear Communications, in 1990, which was originally named Northeast Radio Spectrum.
Fischer, while likely being a new face for most voters, did volunteer for the 2010 and 2012 GOP congressional campaigns for the 20th Congressional District.