The Hudson Independent

Oh Candidates, Where Art Though?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Lit­tle by lit­tle, out of the dark­ness of the COVID-19 lock­down come glimpses of the eight De­mo­c­ra­tic can­di­dates for the 17th Dis­trict Con­gres­sional seat, what they stand for and, to a lim­ited ex­tent, where they stand in the eyes of vot­ers. This will be the week when the veil starts to lift, as at least two more can­di­dates will launch paid me­dia and an on-line gath­er­ing puts all eight in the same space. With about a month left be­fore the June 23 pri­mary, vot­ers will start to get a clearer im­age of their choices.

On Thurs­day, May 21, the four women and four men run­ning to suc­ceed Nita Lowey will ap­pear in lit­tle Hol­ly­wood Squares Zoom boxes in a “vir­tual can­di­dates’ fo­rum” spon­sored jointly by the League of Women Vot­ers of Westch­ester and Rock­land Coun­ties. Un­like their last meet­ing, a de­bate in Jan­u­ary at Mercy Col­lege, where a field of what was then nine can­di­dates faced each other and a live au­di­ence of some 200, the League’s fo­rum will be highly con­strained by the tech­no­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions of the Zoom for­mat.

The two-hour event (it can’t re­ally be called a “de­bate”) will be mod­er­ated by League mem­ber John Hes­sel of New Rochelle, in­ten­tion­ally not a voter in the Dis­trict, who will have his fin­ger on the mute but­ton and a set of strict guide­lines on who can speak when and who can re­but whom and when. Serv­ing with him as a kind of  in­ter­net pro­ducer will be White Plains chap­ter pres­i­dent Stephen Co­hen. “This is a new for­mat for us,” al­lows Co­hen.

This is not an event one can just drop in on. One needs to reg­is­ter in ad­vance just to be a “par­tic­i­pant,” which is some­what of a mis­nomer in that no one from the au­di­ence will be al­lowed to “un­mute” dur­ing the de­bate it­self. To be part of it, one needs to reg­is­ter at https://​us02web.zoom.us/​we­bi­nar/​reg­is­ter/​WN_N­rYE0K9R­REibFt5wGCb­jmg.

Ob­servers may ask ques­tions, but only in ad­vance. To sub­mit a ques­tion, go to https://​docs.google.com/​forms/​d/​e/​1FAIpQLScy­O0pfrVM­mx0­doWv76­DA4k9z2Od3tEF­sExH-e9UY­OX­eI_T2A/​view­form.  League mem­bers will cu­rate the ques­tions in ad­vance.

Each can­di­date will have one minute for an open­ing state­ment and one minute to an­swer a ques­tion. They may also re­quest a 30-sec­ond re­but­tal to some­thing said by an­other can­di­date. The mod­er­a­tor will de­ter­mine whether to grant the re­quest.

An­other ground rule: while the event will be avail­able for any­one to view on the League’s web­site from its con­clu­sion right up to elec­tion day, can­di­dates are pro­hib­ited from ex­tract­ing sound bites for their own ad­van­tage. If they take any­thing, they have to take the en­tire two-hour event.

The non-par­ti­san League had ini­tially sched­uled a par­al­lel de­bate be­tween the two Re­pub­li­cans reg­is­tered in the June 23rd pri­mary: Yehudis Gottes­feld, 25, a chem­i­cal en­gi­neer by train­ing who comes from Rock­land’s large Or­tho­dox Jew­ish com­mu­nity, and Mau­reen Mc­Car­dle Schul­man, 61, a re­tired New York City fire­fighter liv­ing in Shrub Oak. Gottes­feld de­clined the in­vi­ta­tion, ac­cord­ing to the League, while Schul­man never re­sponded to nu­mer­ous at­tempts to reach her. “We view the Fo­rum as if it were a job in­ter­view,” said Westch­ester LWV pres­i­dent Mary­lou Green, “so it is trou­bling that any can­di­date would not want to take this op­por­tu­nity to com­mu­ni­cate with the peo­ple they are seek­ing to rep­re­sent.”

Given the roughly two-to-one ad­van­tage reg­is­tered De­moc­rats have over Re­pub­li­cans in the dis­trict, the can­cel­la­tion of the GOP fo­rum will have no im­pact on the out­come.

Be­cause it is a rare op­por­tu­nity to see all eight De­moc­rats—at least within vir­tual dis­tance of each other, it may prove en­light­en­ing to vot­ers who have so far been left with oc­ca­sional on-line meet­ings put on by in­di­vid­ual can­di­dates, a slew of e-mail mes­sag­ing, most of which tout en­dorse­ments, mail­ers with pretty pic­tures and (at least for a cou­ple of can­di­dates so far) ca­ble TV ads.

We’re about to see a dis­tinct es­ca­la­tion in the TV ad war, how­ever. This week, both Eve­lyn Farkas and Mondaire Jones will be air­ing ads for the first time. Their cam­paigns are hop­ing these ads will boost name recog­ni­tion and tie them to their key pol­icy po­si­tions.

Farkas’s theme is lib­erty, as in the statue of, and what sub­jects of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un don’t have. She was handed a free­bie re­cently when Trump loy­al­ists ac­cused her of ly­ing about what in­for­ma­tion the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had about Trump’s Russ­ian ties back in 2016-17, open­ing the door for her to warn about con­tin­ued Russ­ian elec­tion med­dling in a Wash­ing­ton Post op-ed. Hav­ing Don­ald Trump Jr. and Tucker Carl­son as en­e­mies, it is fair to say, will not hurt her in a 17th Dis­trict De­mo­c­ra­tic pri­mary.

The Jones cam­paign, his sup­port­ers will tell you, should ben­e­fit from the eco­nomic and med­ical in­se­cu­rity brought on by the pan­demic. His po­si­tions on rais­ing the fed­eral poverty line, tax­ing the su­per-rich and ad­vo­cacy of Medicare-for-all should play well in an elec­torate that has seen mil­lions lose their liveli­hoods and health cov­er­age in the past two months alone.

Un­til this week, only two other can­di­dates have been vis­i­ble on the air­waves: David Buch­wald, the down-to-earth for­mer tax at­tor­ney who still has a day job as a state as­sem­bly­man, had an ad up for a few weeks pre­sent­ing him as a fam­ily man and leg­isla­tive macher. But that’s been taken down and won’t be re­placed un­til later in May or even June. Fill­ing the vac­uum has been what feels like a seam­less blan­ket of Adam Schleifer ads. The lat­est plays off the courage of his holo­caust-sur­viv­ing grand­fa­ther, which, the ad says, in­spired the can­di­date’s courage in pros­e­cut­ing crim­i­nals in L.A. and pro­tect­ing con­sumers as a New York reg­u­la­tor.

Schleifer’s very deep pock­ets—he’s spent more than the other seven com­bined—has the full at­ten­tion of the field, and there’s no doubt that he will be widely known in the dis­trict come June 23. But his op­po­nents don’t seem to feel he has a nat­ural con­stituency that will turn out and vote for him.

The most feared can­di­date is David Car­lucci who, de­spite al­legedly high neg­a­tives in pri­vate polling, an ane­mic bank ac­count that may not be able to af­ford tele­vi­sion, and the deep en­mity of Westch­ester pro­gres­sives be­cause of his mem­ber­ship in the In­de­pen­dent De­mo­c­ra­tic Cau­cus (IDC), re­mains the can­di­date to beat. Rea­son: his Rock­land County roots where his ser­vice as a state sen­a­tor has earned him a base of al­most Trumpian im­per­me­abil­ity. If Westch­ester gets carved up among the other ma­jor can­di­dates and Car­lucci can de­liver 35 to 40 per­cent of Rock­land De­moc­rats, he’ll be the par­ty’s nom­i­nee. If there’s any­thing his ri­vals can agree on, it is a hope that his base is a ceil­ing, not a floor.

With all the con­straints on pub­lic cam­paign­ing, one would think the can­di­dates with strong dig­i­tal pres­ence would ben­e­fit. By that mea­sure, Al­li­son Fine should be a con­tender. She has put on en­light­en­ing on­line events and sends out a steady stream of emails of­fer­ing a mix­ture of prac­ti­cal ad­vice on how to get by dur­ing the shut­down and thought­ful, some­times philo­soph­i­cal ob­ser­va­tions on life and its vi­cis­si­tudes. But by any ob­serv­able mea­sure, even in­clud­ing num­bers of Twit­ter and Face­book fol­low­ers, she trails the pack. As the most ob­vi­ous pro-choice can­di­date, she could not have been pleased when Emi­ly’s List en­dorsed Eve­lyn Farkas.

Farkas’s fat dossier of en­dorse­ments is a ver­i­ta­ble Who’s Who of the Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy es­tab­lish­ment that keeps on get­ting fat­ter. Among the most im­pres­sive: for­mer De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon Panetta and for­mer Sen­a­tor, Sec­re­tary of State and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date John Kerry. Her op­po­nents con­tend that these are only proof that she is an out­sider whose con­stituents are from K Street, not Cen­tral Av­enue. Whether her vir­tual “whistlestop” events and fo­rums on lo­cal is­sue like In­dian Point are enough to counter that im­age re­mains to be seen.

David Buch­wald leads the pack in an­other cat­e­gory of en­dorse­ments: lo­cal pols and unions. Pun­dits are in­ter­ested in see­ing whether these grass roots are thick enough to counter the glitz of Farkas’s Wash­ing­ton all-stars.

In a field of eight can­di­dates, there was bound to be a cat­e­gory of also-rans—folks who poll in the sin­gle dig­its and don’t war­rant at­tacks ads from their op­po­nents. In the race for Nita Lowey’s seat, Rye’s Cather­ine Parker and Asha Castle­berry-Her­nan­dez of Elms­ford fall into that cat­e­gory. Oth­er­wise ar­tic­u­late pub­lic ser­vants, (Parker as a county leg­is­la­tor; Castle­berry-Her­nan­dez as a com­bat vet­eran, teacher and na­tional se­cu­rity ex­pert), these two have not gained any ap­par­ent trac­tion and are un­able to af­ford the kind of me­dia ex­po­sure that will move them up the ranks. Per­haps a strong show­ing in Thurs­day’s League fo­rum will change that.