TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Tompkins County voters will have more than one decision with national implications this election season, as Democrat Tracy Mitrano tries to unseat incumbent Republican Tom Reed, who is seeking his sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing New York’s 23rd Congressional District. Reed defeated Mitrano in 2018, securing 54.2 percent of the vote to Mitrano’s 45.8 percent.
Before entering Congress, Reed served one term as the mayor of Corning, his hometown. Mitrano, who lives in Penn Yan, worked most notably as the Director of Information Technology Policy at Cornell University, solidifying her cybersecurity bona fides that she often touts before starting her own business in 2014. Technically, she has been campaigning since shortly after her 2018 loss, making the unconventional decision to declare her 2020 candidacy just weeks after the election was decided. Watch the debate the two candidates held last week here.
Update: There is a third party candidate, Andrew Kolstee, running as a Libertarian, though he did not answer requests for interviews and has not filed any campaign finance documents with the Federal Election Commission. Local dentist Scott Noren is running a write-in campaign but is not listed as a choice on the ballot.
Mitrano’s main campaign message has been one that is common for challengers: that Reed has spent his time in Congress ignoring the needs of his constituents, more concerned with a national profile and holding the conservative line than with the problems being faced at home. In an interview, she focused on how she said that has manifested itself among the upstate New York dairy industry.
“Some of it really calls for quality representation from a member in Congress,” Mitrano said, arguing that anti-trust investigations need to be initiated in the dairy industry on a federal level. She also lamented the heightening suicide rates among dairy farmers, who are undergoing a fourth consecutive year of depressed prices and bleak outlooks. “They need a representative that is going to address their needs and do something for them. God knows, they’re the last people on Earth who want a hand-out. But when you’re in a crisis, and we’re a community, and you’ve got a representative in Congress, that representative should do something to get them to the other side.”
Reed countered that he has pushed relief funding towards agricultural communities, including dairy farmers, particularly over the last several months as part of larger coronavirus-related relief spending legislation. Before that, he also helped guide the USMCA trade deal, which he said was a boon to dairy farmers looking to enter the Canadian market.
One of the more contentious notes of the campaign is, unsurprisingly, police reform. Reed has accused Mitrano of supporting defunding the police, a position that has gained traction among left-wingers especially in the wake of nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Mitrano, for her part, does not support defunding the police and has said so repeatedly, even filing a cease and desist over Reed-funded ads claiming that she does.
Reed touted his accomplishments with his oft-noted Problem Solvers Caucus, on the topic of law enforcement regulation specifically, and acknowledged that police reform is necessary moving forward.
“Since the policing conversation first came onto the national stage earlier this year, we have hosted a series of difficult conversations within the Problem Solvers Caucus to determine how we can put forward reforms that would incentivize positive change,” Reed said. “Throughout this process, we’ve sought direct input from community leaders and law enforcement because good policies always start with listening. We have shared our compromise proposals with the Senate, and are hopeful we can keep pushing for a breakthrough over the coming months at the federal level.”
Both candidates additionally spoke on the nation’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. Reed called for greater transparency at the New York State level, including from Gov. Andrew Cuomo about his infamous nursing home plan, while also noting that mistakes had been made at the federal level as well—interesting in that Reed was one of President Donald Trump’s first and most ardent supporters in Congress during his 2016 campaign.
“At the federal level, for too long we’ve allowed our critical supply chains to be more dependent on foreign sources then domestic manufacturers,” Reed wrote. “This led to an overreliance on China and other countries for critical supplies of PPE, pharmaceuticals, and medical equipment. That being said, our efforts right now at the federal level (Operation Warp Speed) on COVID therapeutics and a vaccine are making a difference. We’ve cut red tape to boost manufacturing times for therapies, vaccines, and other drugs. We’ve also made huge strides in testing; working with the Administration, Abbott, Governor Cuomo, and local officials, we were proud to see New York receive so many new rapid testing kits.”
Mitrano touched once again on the need for anti-trust investigations in upstate New York meat processing and dairy farming industries. More pressing, though, she emphasized that the economic path back from the coronavirus is an opportunity to elevate the entire region by focusing on fixing some of the structural issues that certainly existed in the area before the pandemic set in, but have been magnified by its impact over the last several months.
“We could, I believe, diversify and revive our local agricultural economy and keep a lot of this district in its original tradition but update it to the 21st century,” Mitrano said. “You can’t do it unless you have basic services such as the internet, good health, good education. People aren’t going to move if they can’t educate their children well, or if there aren’t good resources for healthcare or if they can’t do work in a 21st century manner over the internet. It’s all of these basic building blocks.”