ITHACA, NY – Last week in Elmira, Republican Congressman Tom Reed, who represents Ithaca and the rest of New York’s 23rd Congressional District, debated his challenger in the November general election, Democratic candidate John Plumb.

Since the two aren’t scheduled to debate in the Ithaca area, most local residents might not get a chance to hear the candidates debate in person. Below is a recap of the Elmira debate for those still looking for a better sense of where the two candidates stand:

On the presidential race

The debate started with a question that has been common in this controversial election cycle: do Reed and Plumb support their parties candidates for president?

Reed said that he supported Republican candidate Donald Trump because he offered the best chance of “disrupting” Washington D.C.

“I know we all share concerns. But he’s not a traditional politician. He’s not one who is tied into the establishment and continuing the status quo. I believe, given the warts and everything else he offers, he offers the best chance to bring that private sector background, that new way of doing business to Washington D.C. so that we put the American people first,” Reed said.

“Let me just say what I think we all think: this election is hurting my heart,” Plumb said.

Plumb said that he could not defend Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server, calling it a “terrible mistake.” However, he said that Trump was unfit to be commander-in-chief, citing various issues with Trump’s conduct on and off the campaign trail, such as insulting the disabled, POWs, Gold Star families and Trump’s apparent boasting about leveraging his power to sexually assault women.

On national security

Plumb outlined a strategy for tackling the terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State (ISIS), which focused on eliminating their leadership and also cutting off their financial backing and recruiting systems. He criticized Congress for not passing new authorizations to use military force, which he said has left the current fight against terrorist organizations without proper congressional oversight. He also attacked Reed for his votes to allow the sale of firearms to people on the terrorist watchlist and to shut down the Department of Homeland Security.

Reed criticized Plumb for not using the term “radical Islamic terror” in defining the threat to our national security, but clarified that it was not Islam as a whole but a radical portion of the religion who were targeting Americans. He also criticized Plumb’s idea to take down terrorist recruiting websites, saying it would violate due process.

Reed stressed the importance of having a plan not only to tackle the terror threat, but also a strategy that would avoid long-term entanglements in other countries, but he did advocate for “taking the threat to them” as well as strengthening America’s borders to prevent terrorist groups from taking root in America.

On local benefits for the district

Reed spoke to his previous efforts to revitalize manufacturing in New York’s 23rd congressional district, citing his bi-partisan work to help get the Revitalizing American Manufacturing and Innovation Act, which he sponsored, which he says brought a $600 million investment to the region.

Plumb focused on the issues specifically facing rural communities, noting that many of his policy proposals focus specifically on the challenges faced by rural areas in dealing with things like the opioid epidemic, local veterans and the local economy. He said that Washington gridlock was preventing more work from being done, and that despite Reed’s examples of working across the aisle, he was still a part of the problem.

On trade and the local economy

Plumb later spoke about the fragility of rural economies in the face of international trade deals and criticized Reed for routinely voting for such trade deals, and for allegedly flip-flopping on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“Free trade deals hurt rural manufacturing economies. That’s just an economic truth,” Plumb said. “If a factory closes down, nothing opens its doors across the way.”

He said that green energy should be the focus when it came to creating jobs in the region and that congress needed to disentangle itself from oil interests and ride the new wave of clean energy.

Reed challenged Plumb’s assertions on trade deals, citing as examples the fact that a huge portion of the market for CorningWare is in Korea and that a large diesel engine manufacturing operation in Lakewood sells much of its output to places like Columbia and Panama.

Reed also defended his position on the TPP, saying that he didn’t take a political position, but rather held judgement until he could read the deal. Reed cited a piece of the TPP that would prevent dairy farmers from shipping to Canada as a key reason for his opposition to the trade deal.

On the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)

Plumb said that while there were issues with the Affordable Care Act, such as the way in which it can discourage small businesses to grow past a certain size, but felt that the law should be improved instead of scrapped. However, he criticized Reed for voting 63 times to repeal the act without having an alternative.

“It’s just complaining, it’s just making a political point. Who knows how much better it would be after 63 improvements? But we’ll never know because instead we’re just playing politics,” Plumb said.

Reed argued that the affordable care act was anything but: “I have gone around the district, I’ve looked people in the eye. It’s not affordable. People aren’t able to cover their co-pays, their deductibles, their premiums,” Reed said. He added that competition was necessary to give both patients and doctor’s more choice.

Reed said that there was agreement in congress that insurance reform was needed — namely on issues like pre-existing conditions, lifetime caps on policies and allowing children to stay on their parents insurance plan until age 26. Obamacare, he said, was “going down the wrong path” because it was focused on mandating health care coverage.

On Social Security

Both candidates said that they were committed to maintaining social security, including the possibility of raising the payroll tax cap for social security (meaning higher-earners would pay more into the system).

However, Reed cautioned that raising the cap wasn’t a unilateral solution, and that it was also important to fight social security waste, fraud and abuse and maintain government transparency on large “autopilot” expenditures like social security.

Plumb attacked Reed’s voting record when it came to seniors, citing Reed’s eight percent rating with The Alliance for Retired Americans, which indicates that Reed voted against the interests of seniors over 90 percent of the time.

Closing out

For their closing statements, Reed highlighted his commitment to the district and on-the-ground focus.

“We want to make sure that your voice is represented and carried to Washington,” Reed said. “That’s why we do the 200-plus town halls, the 10,000 cases — anyone who calls our office, we’re going to be there for you, we may not be able to get you the answer you want, but at least we can get you an answer.”

Plumb focused on his ability to get the job done, hearkening back to his time as a submarine officer.

“We didn’t care if you were a Republican or Democrat. We just cared about getting the job done, getting results, making sure that our crew and country were safe,” Plumb said. “It’s confusing to me why it’s so hard for our Congress to do the same… We want people in Congress to fix things and make things better. That’s the job, that’s what they’re supposed to do, and with your help that’s what I’m going to do in Congress.”

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.