OSWEGO — With local elections in the rearview mirror, Democratic Party candidates in New York’s 24th Congressional District are shifting gears from their grassroots support of fellow Dems running for office and directing all efforts to their June Primary Election.
Democrats Dana Balter, Francis Conole and Roger Misso fielded questions on Wednesday from a packed SUNY Oswego Marano Campus Center auditorium during the latest congressional public forum, hosted by local activists and the local College Democrats chapter. The candidates were pressed on issues such as election security, nuclear power and the opioid crisis.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus, was invited to participate but did not attend the forum, according to representatives from We The People of Oswego Indivisible, one of the organizing groups. Katko did not respond to requests for comment from The Palladium-Times about Wednesday’s forum.
Cybersecurity and election security
Responding to the question of how they would strengthen the nation’s voting and online grid, all candidates deemed lax election security a threat to the country’s democratic institutions.
Wayne County’s Misso — a Naval Academy graduate who worked as a defense assistant in the House of Representatives and as a chief speechwriter to Four-Star Admiral Michelle Howard — said daily attacks from “malicious foreign actors” attempt to steal information and use ransomware. He criticized the lack of cybersecurity experts in Congress.
“As our kids curricula relies more and more on cyber infrastructure, they are increasingly denied educational opportunities,” Misso said in reference to cyber attacks experienced this summer by schools in the district.
He called for a “strong national cyber policy” to determine where online information breaches may come from.
Conole, a Syracuse resident who graduated from the Naval Academy and served in the Intelligence Community as a policy advisor to Defense Secretary James Mattis, called cybersecurity the “battleground of the future” and noted Republicans are not “taking it seriously.”
“One of the glaring things we got from the Mueller report is that we saw from the last (electoral) cycle the most sweeping and widespread attack on our elections from the Russians,” Conole said, calling on Congress to take action. “That is only going to continue and it is only going to increase.”
Balter, a former Syracuse University professor and community organizer who won the Democratic Party primary in 2018 only to narrow lose to Katko in the general election, highlighted cybersecurity as a threat to personal privacy.
“One of the things the federal government is good at is directing funding to deal with problems and promoting and spreading best practices,” Balter said noting the country has “not come to terms with the fact that the 2016 and 2020 elections are under attack” by several foreign powers. “Experts tell us hand-marked paper ballots are the way to go.”
Both Misso and Balter noted they support paper ballots as a measure of election security.
In September, Balter and local Democrats gathered at Donald R. Hill Plaza in the Port City, calling on the U.S. Senate to vote on an election security bill, H.R. 2722, which passed in the House of Representatives on June 27. The bill would allocate $600 million to secure elections by enhancing security for the infrastructure used to carry out elections, including the adoption of paper ballots.
“Our Congressman Katko has voted against that funding increase every single time it has come to the floor,” she said at the forum. “It is time to put someone in office who is going to protect the integrity of our elections and protect the privacy of every individual in this country.”
When asked about the role Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station and James A. Fitzpatrick Nuclear Power Plant will play in the region’s energy strategy, all candidates said they support nuclear power generation and called it a vessel to lessen dependency on fossil fuels.
“Our primary goal — with regards to energy production — is to get off of fossil fuels,” Balter said, noting carbon emissions and fossil fuel dependency are an “important piece” of the current climate crisis. “We have got to invest in (nuclear energy’s) safety and we have to make sure we are using it as an opportunity to get ourselves off fossil fuels.”
Misso echoed Balter’s sentiment, but said he is concerned about the volatility of nuclear power and its harmful capabilities.
“We cannot assume it is a completely safe form of energy,” he said, adding he is also in favor of supplanting energy from fossil fuels for a “100 percent renewable grid.”
Conole said nuclear power has to be “part of the energy mix,” noting he wants to protect the nuclear industry in Oswego County. He also added there need to be “large scale investments” in other sources of energy.
“Wind, solar, bio — we need to continue to update our grid and buildings,” he said. “We need to invest in new technology like carbon capture and reforestation. We need a multi-pronged, all hands-on-deck approach.”
Candidates also weighed in on the opioid crisis currently ravaging the nation. As reported by the Washington Post, 29 million pills flooded Oswego County from 2006 to 2012.
“You cannot grow up in a small town in central New York and not know someone who has died from addiction and overdose,” Misso said. “Addiction is a disease and we need to treat it as such. It cuts across socioeconomic lines.”
Misso added he wants to focus on “response, recovery and redemption” as areas of policy, ensuring funding for medical emergency response services and seeking long term inpatient services and safe injection sites “that can save so many lives.”
Earlier in the fall, Misso announced he was not taking donations from members of the pharmaceutical industry.
Balter said she does not want to treat the crisis as just a criminal problem.
“I am tired of hearing elected officials like Congressman Katko talk about the opioid crisis as a law enforcement and criminal problem,” Balter said, calling the crisis a “medical problem.” “I would like to focus on the pharmaceutical companies, making billion while getting our community members addicted. Those same corporations are now making money for selling the treatment… the moral obscenity of that is phenomenal.”
Conole said elected officials need to crack down on the pharmaceutical industry and support big lawsuits against industry giants.
“They need to be held accountable. We need to support these lawsuits and with that money we need to invest more in treatment,” Conole said. “We need to support the entities on the frontlines, the hospitals.”
After the forum, SUNY Oswego College Democrats officials said they would not endorse any particular candidate but rather will support whoever wins the nomination come next June.
College Democrats Vice President Jessica Chachere qualified the event as an opportunity for students and community members to get involved in local politics and interact with candidates.
“Students sometimes feel as though they don't have a voice in their government and events like the candidate forum, and the town hall with Dana Balter that we hosted last fall, give students the opportunity to be heard,” Chachere said.