It’s an important day, and not just because it’s Week One of the 2018 season. On Monday, June 25, voters across New York are heading to the polls to cast their votes in the Democratic congressional primary. In Chautauqua County, five Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination and the chance to represent New York’s 23rd District in the House of Representatives, which extends from Chautauqua County to the Finger Lakes. Registered members of the Democratic Party who live on or nearby the grounds of the Institution can vote from noon to 9 p.m. today at Lakeside Community Center in Mayville.
Today’s Democratic primary is the first one held in the district since 2012. The winner goes on to challenge U.S. Rep. Tom Reed in the Nov. 4 general election, who has held the seat for eight years. Reed has no challengers within his own party, so there is no Republican primary this year.
A common theme among all the candidates is a strong emphasis on job creation and infrastructure, two issues of particular interest to Chautauqua Institution.
“Chautauqua Institution is intricately tied to Chautauqua County,” said Linda Andrei, one of the candidates. “Anything that elevates the standard of living for (Chautauqua County) residents and attracts a stable increase in the population benefits the Institution.”
A former cardiologist hailing from Ithaca, Andrei is prioritizing regional infrastructure improvements as a “basis for economic independence and security” in Chautauqua County. Although the Institution already has its own plan for campus-wide Wifi in the works, Andrei said offering similar services on a wider scale — like “fixing our roads and bridges, clean energy jobs, high speed internet access, public transportation in rural areas, public art and attention to recreation facilities” — is a “critical investment” for future prosperity.
Another candidate, former educator and cybersecurity expert Tracy Mitrano, believes the first step to economic opportunity is ensuring access to affordable health care. Healthy people mean a healthy workforce, and Mitrano said she will also work to make higher education, including vocational school, “affordable and accessible.”
“At the end of the day, everyone wants the same basic things — happy families, good jobs, healthy lives and opportunities,” Mitrano said. “This election is an opportunity to come together and choose a better future for NY-23.”
Small-business owner Ian Golden said his values are in line with those of Chautauqua County and the Institution. His infrastructure plans for improving internet access would allow people more freedom to enjoy Chautauqua while also staying on top of their jobs, and he supports a “federal jobs guarantee and minimum wage increase” that would give more people the means to experience the Institution.
“I think that crafting and supporting legislation that actually benefits the majority of Americans will give people some breathing room at the least, but hopefully a fairer shot at economic comfort and stability,” Golden said. “I also believe the arts are under threat, generally, and art is a crucial expression and reflection of the human experience. We all need a better insight into others’ experiences and humanity.”
Eddie Sundquist, a Jamestown attorney, said many Chautauquans have been negatively affected by the GOP’s 2017 tax plan, which eliminated full state and local tax deductions. Along with pledging to reverse the plan, Sundquist said he will implement a jobs plan to create a “much stronger pool of local, Chautauqua County workers for the Institution to draw from.”
“My plan focuses on investment in infrastructure, retraining displaced workers and encouraging the younger generation to take less traditional career paths, to take on high-skill manufacturing and trade,” he said.
Sundquist is also the only candidate in the primary to specifically mention Chautauqua Lake in his environmental plan. He cited the current debate over herbicide use as one of the lake’s most pressing issues, and said federal funding should be used to research “a solution for the restoration of the lake.”
The final candidate, Max Della Pia, is stressing his public service record as proof of his ability to bring change to Chautauqua County. An Air Force veteran, Della Pia has said his main goal is to give the people of the 23rd District “a fair shake.” And he’ll work across the political aisle to do so.
“We can work together to do something good for your district,” Della Pia told the Olean Times Herald. “That’s what I think the American people deserve and expect.”
Della Pia supports increasing the minimum wage to a “living wage,” and plans to invest in “energy, transportation, tech and manufacturing” to boost the regional economy, according to his website.
Many of the candidates believe the Institution has a vital role to play in helping future plans come to fruition. Mitrano said the Institution’s ability to bring people with different views together will aid “civil discourse” regarding plans for the county’s prosperity.
“At this time in our country when we seem so polarized and divided, we need to work on ways to bring people together and have reasonable, educated discussions about how we solve the problems in our community,” Mitrano said.
Sundquist said that the various experts who visit the Institution each year are valuable resources for “develop(ing) legislation that will help the Institution, the county, the district and the country as a whole.”
Although many Chautauquans don’t reside in the area year-round, the candidates said that their concerns and interests are still represented by the NY-23 representative. Golden said he plans to be “extremely accountable” to voters and said he welcomed conversations from Chautauquans. Andrei said she plans to use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to share information and stay engaged with seasonal residents.
“I have talked with many seasonal residents, and I know that they have a strong bond to the area and share a sense of community with surrounding Chautauqua County,” Sundquist said. “We can work together using the Institution’s national reach to improve the lives of all.”
- Those Chautauquans going to the polls may wonder why their ballots are smaller than usual. Although congressional candidates appear on the June 26 ballot, state and local candidates will be voted on in a separate primary Sept. 13. This rule was established in 2012 to allow military voters enough time to receive and send in their absentee ballots.
- Although New York state is considered a Democratic stronghold, Chautauqua County is one of the few in the state with Republican leadership. A county Board of Elections tally of active registered voters in April found that Republicans outnumber Democrats in the county for the first time since 2008. It’s still close — 34 percent identified as Republicans and 33 percent identified as Democrats.