ITHACA, N.Y. — Six Democratic congressional candidates spoke to a crowd of about 700 people Monday night to discuss some of the biggest issues in the region.

The candidates hope to take on Republican incumbent Tom Reed who is running for his fifth term in office this year. Reed has steadily beat out Democratic  candidates in the district, including former Tompkins County Legislator Nate Shinagawa, current Tompkins County Legislature Chair Martha Robertson, and most recently, John Plumb, a former Navy Reserve Commander and White House adviser.

Reed, while popular in a district that includes rural western New York, has little support in the Democratic stronghold of Tompkins County, making it a must-win spot for congressional candidates.

Candidate Tracy Mitrano won the straw poll with 297 votes. Max Della Pia came in second with 80 votes, while Ithacan Ian Golden came in third with 69 votes. Other candidates running are Linda Andrei, Eddie Sundquist, Charles Whalen, and Rick Gallant, who placed in the straw poll in respective order. Gallant did not attend the event because of an illness.

While the first part of the evening focused on the economy, gun regulation, and the opioid crisis, the second half took on military spending, renewable energy and “extreme liberalism.”

Related: Tompkins County congressional candidates discuss major issues: economy, gun regulation, opioid crisis

Here is a wrap up of the second half of the event:

Military spending

“I think we have spent enough money on war. We need to bring those young people home. We need to give them jobs,” Andrei said.

If defense spending were shifted to social spending, she said, jobs could be created to repair infrastructure and focus on solar, wind, and geothermal projects.

Golden said, “What we really need is more opportunity.”

When he looks at what would benefit people in the district, he said a government jobs program that would guarantee full-time work for people would be a priority of his.

For instance, he said funding for a F-35 fighter jet project is topping $406 billion. It would cost less to employ people across the nation for four years, he said.

“I think when we look at the amount of, I think bloat, to that budget and where we’re sending it, I think I would very much disagree with several of its line items let alone the nature of the conflicts that we have all over the world at this point and how were engaging in them,” Golden said.

Sundquist also pointed to unnecessary military spending, like President Donald Trump’s proposed military parade, and said the millions of dollars something like that would cost would better be spent taking care of veterans.

“There are too few VAs in this district. There are too few opportunities for our veterans to get treatment, and more importantly we need mental treatment for our veterans, and we’re not getting it,” he said.

Renewable energy

In some instances, there is a conflict between support for renewable energy and support for local job. Candidates were asked how they would address that issue to people in the district.

“We don’t need to have a conflict between the reneweables and jobs. We need to move forward with the renewables,” Andrei said.

She said that while there’s no fracking in New York State, natural gas is being imported from Pennsylvania, brought to condensers, and leaking, which is 100 times worse than carbon dioxide in terms of elevating the temperature.

“We all need to wake up and we all need to address it and say ‘We’re ready for renewable energy,’” she said.

Sundquist said, “Renewable jobs are where we need to go. We need green collar jobs in this district.”

He said getting people off fossil fuels by 2035 is a must, and job creation goes along with that.

“I think this is a very delicate question that defines leadership. Because I do understand the fear that people have and I do understand the needs that they have to bring in an income,” Mitrano said.

But leadership, she said, is the ability to look to the future. It paints a picture of what things could look like for people in the coming years so that they can envision themselves investing in it.

Extreme Liberals

Reed frequently uses the phrase “extreme liberals” to describe his political opponents, and often says he is a centrist instead of a conservative.

Mitrano said, “I would respond to Reed why are republicans calling me? What are republicans calling me and saying, ‘I’m not going to change my party but I am so disgusted with Trump and Reed that I’m looking for a democrat.’ And I have talked to them, I have visited them, and I am receiving their campaign contributions. And so if that’s what an extreme liberal is in his book I guess we’re starting to take the benefit of it.”

Sundquist said, “If getting jobs for the people of this district, if caring about getting healthcare for every person in New York 23rd, if caring about ending the opioid crisis makes me an extreme liberal, then I’m guilty as charged. So go ahead with the labels, but let’s talk about what we care about not who we put a label on.”

At the end of the questioning, all the candidates were given four minutes to address the crowd. See their closing statements below:

YouTube video

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.