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RACE IN THE 23RD: A conversation with Tracy Mitrano ahead of Election Day

Editor’s Note: Rep. Tom Reed was not available for an interview in the weeks and days leading up to this piece being published. FL1 News made every effort to connect and coordinate with candidates in the 23rd and 24th districts. Unfortunately, Reed was the only candidate not available during our recording window. We hope to feature the Congressman in a pre-Election Day episode of The Debrief Podcast 

“When I entered the race in 2017, I predicted it was going to take two times to get Tom Reed out.”

It’s less than a week away from Election Day and for Tracy Mitrano, she’s not tired or remotely fatigued while running for New York’s 23rd District again. 

Mitrano, the Democratic Party challenger seeks to usurp the seat occupied by Rep. Tom Reed [R-NY], realizing a long time ago that it would take her two attempts to oust him from Congress.

“People say what has changed. What’s changed is that we have time to run a full campaign. I didn’t have time in 2018. The general election did not start for Democrats until late August, early September. You can’t beat an entrenched incumbent in a challenging district in that time frame,” Mitrano exclusively told as part of the Race for Congress: 2020 campaign series.

Even her platform hasn’t changed all too much, saying that she’s still in support of the same key issues for the district from 2018 like education, the economy and especially health care.

However, the stakes can’t be higher this election cycle for Mitrano. 

“So, when you ask me about my platform, it has essentially stayed the same. It’s about economic revitalization of the 23rd District, and I am afraid that Tom Reed has neither the understanding or the vision about how you do it,” she claimed. 

Despite a delayed campaigning launch, that setback didn’t stunt her chances last cycle after having a fairly competitive bout between herself and Reed. 

In 2018, she lost by a ten-point margin, which is certainly a definitive defeat when it comes to election results, but it’s still the closest that anybody has been in usurping the longtime Republican incumbent in recent memory.

Ever since Reed first arrived to Congress in 2010 after a special election to fill the seat previously held by then Democrat incumbent Eric Massa, the Republican Party has clinched an airtight grasp upon the seat, which later officially became NY-23 after redistricting. 

The only other competitive challenge that Reed has faced since taking office actually happened in 2012 when Nate Shinagawa of Tompkins County earned 48.1-percent of the total vote against his 51.9-percent, which resulted in a fairly narrow 3.8-percent difference.

But that contentious election occurred when the demographics of the district leaned more Democratic just shortly after Massa stepped down less than two years earlier.

In 2016, Reed staved-off a challenge from John Plumb, a Democratic in a 58-42 victory by securing a 16-point margin. 

The deficit across the party lines had been even worse in 2014, placing Democratic challenger Martha Robertson at a 25-percentage points disadvantage against Reed in 62.6-37.4 blowout. 

This time around, however, Mitrano believes that this dynamic is changing ahead of this cycle. Her campaign office has been coordinating with volunteers to call unaffiliated voters since the start of 2019.

Her staff have continued closely working with informing voters, especially during this election cycle where confusion is running rampant with the voting processes at the state level. 

“There is a lot of confusion, I don’t deny that, but it all the more means why we need to be an informed citizenry because the reasons that we have the early voting predate the virus, and that was already going to be new for people in New York state,” Mitrano explained. 

She has even pointed to local Democratic committees for failing to lay the groundwork for her campaign to succeed in 2018, pushing part of that blame upon these organizers. 

“I’m afraid the Democrats have not done the spade work that they need to do on a consistent basis, being in touch with the unaffiliated, maintaining relationships with agriculture, maintaining relationships with Black and Indigenous communities. These should be ongoing projects, continuously registering people. That is the work of your Democratic committees in every county in the district,” Mitrano mentioned. 

Now skipping ahead to 2020, Mitrano expects these committees will “routinely, regularly and always” grow the party, which seemed lacking from her own assessment when she first ran two years ago.

In spite of that obstacle, Mitrano claims that she has overcome those adversities by building strategic networks ahead of Election Day, likening the process to “riding a boxcar on a train” in that “you’re all together and moving forward” behind the winning candidate. 

“Those are building blocks as to how you’re going to attract investment to this area.”

Not much has changed on the policy side for her either. Instead, Mitrano has doubled-down on some key issues that she finds critically important for those who reside in the 23rd congressional district. 

The issue of education has remained a tenet of her platform, saying that “if we don’t bring those interest rates down, the cycle starts all over again” and insists that “we have to attack the problem at the root.” 

Lowering student debt is priority for Mitrano, causing for her to even side with former Vice President Joe Biden’s loan forgiveness policy that’s a part of his presidential bid.

“That is an area that I still don’t understand why the Democratic Party hasn’t fully embraced that nationally, I do support the Biden perspective on loan forgiveness,” she admitted. 

But most of all, Mitrano wants to invest in her communities by bringing back broadband funding and projects for the district, if elected to Congress.

“We have to have the internet. You cannot expect any investment in the 21st century, whether it’s in the hospitality and tourism industry, whether it’s even in a call center, and certainly not advanced manufacturing. We can’t support our farmers and agriculture, unless they’re able to use the internet for everything from planning to functionality of smart barns and other technologies that they need to be competitive in the 21st century global agricultural market,” she insisted. 

As for health care, she has continued to challenge Reed on his record and seen how politics at the federal level are impacting the lives of everyday citizens.

“I am tired of watching the Republicans shove good Democrats down rabbit holes, talking about plans. I think we need to focus on what uniformly people want,” Mitrano said. 

Just like last time, she still stands in support of “a prohibition against discriminating on the basis of a preexisting condition,” considering it to be the singular most significant policy issue for her campaign. 

For Mitrano, she sees Reed’s record on health care as a cautious tale for voters, one that places his loyalty behind big health corporations and not the best interests for residents in the 23rd District.

After referencing at his campaign contributions and financial reports, Mitrano called Reed “a poster boy for political corruption in Congress.” 

DiSanto Propane (Billboard)

“Why did the first stimulus bill spend half a trillion dollars of protection money to commercial banks, big corporations and special interests, because of the political corruption in Congress, for which Tom Reed is the poster boy,” she claimed. 

Reed has heavily financed his campaign with support from PACs or political action committees in comparison to Mitrano. 

He has fundraised $1,150,675 in campaign contributions from businesses, $76,500 from labor and $111,100 from ideological groups, according to Open Secrets. 

Whereas Mitrano has not solicited a single dollar from any business PACs. She did, however, secure $5,000 from labor PACs and $12,800 from ideological ones as well.

In their rematch, Mitrano has raised $17,800 in 2020 in comparison to Reed’s $1,339,275 when it comes to receiving funds from PACs.

“So let’s get down to brass tacks, we know exactly what’s going on and once again, Tom Reed is failing to be truthful about his positions on them,” she claimed. 

Reed, who also operated his own medical debt collection service out of Corning, had come under scrutiny in the past for his business dealings, which were investigated by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee and Office of Congressional Ethics back in 2014. 

Mitrano insisted that she’s tired of the deception and desires to usher in a new age for New York’s 23rd District. 

“It is time to bring transparency, but also some controls on deductibles as well as premiums. We need to bring in out of pocket costs into coverage such as Medicare for vision, dental, hearing, all the things that Tom Reed keeps voting against,” she added. 

In 2019, Reed voted against H.R. 3, which is more commonly known as the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act that passed the House and sought “to establish a fair price negotiation program, protect the Medicare program from excessive price increases, and establish an out-of-pocket maximum for Medicare part D enrollees,” according to the bill. 

This has been a bill of particular interest that Mitrano has called attention to while out on the campaign trail before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted public appearances like her own healthcare listening tour throughout the entire district. 

Mitrano says major shift necessary in healthcare as listening tour stops in Geneva

Mitrano remains keen to consider how Reed might rebut her claims amid this crucial election cycle. 

“I don’t know how he’s gonna lie his way out of that one, but I expect he will. The truth of the matter is the government should be able to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prescription drug costs, especially for our seniors, period, done, end of sentence,” Mitrano said.  

But even her own party affiliation does not shield longtime Democrats from any scrutiny either, encouraging her prospective colleagues to “start looking at goals rather than fighting amongst themselves about different plans.” 

She’s even looking past partisan affiliations, insisting that constituents “want basic drugs like insulin, inhalers, epipens, heart medications to be free or for pennies,” demanding “they deserve that.” 

“If you ask people what they need and want, they’re not partisan about it. They’re really clear, and it’s not dramatic. It’s not extreme. It’s common. So, they deserve a congress person who respects their needs, and is going to fight like hell to get them,” she emphasized.

“I think COVID brings out into bold relief, everything that we’re already talking about.” 

Addressing health care has been a constant concern for Mitrano and COVID-19 certainly reinforced her policy aims ahead of Election Day.  

“I think COVID brings out into bold relief, everything that we’re already talking about, from the need of healthcare, the need of proper education, the need of infrastructure, such as the internet,” she acknowledged. 

Although Reed has voted against the Heroes Act and the initial federal stimulus bill, he voted in favor of H.R. 6201: the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” that overwhelmingly passed with bipartisan support in the early morning hours on Saturday, March 14 after enforcing a procedure called “suspension of rules,” which is commonly implored when passing non-controversial bills.

Yet Mitrano still believes that his support for that relief package had been “absolutely disingenuous.” 

House passes spending measure in response to COVID-19

Mitrano admitted that she’s in full support of more federal stimulus packages for COVID-19 aid and relief. 

“I would have voted for it too, but boy, I’ll tell you, I would have fought tooth and nail to get the protection money off the table and get the money to the people and entities that need it, and Tom Reed doesn’t. He plays the shell game,” she claimed. 

But she also seeks to restructure those disbursements, if elected to Congress.

“We have to invert the paradigm. We have been giving to these lobbying interests first at the top of the pyramid and not enough as we go down,” she explained.

She even tiered what her priorities would like when it comes to allocating COVID-19 relief while on Capitol Hill. 

First and foremost, she sought to give “anyone affected by health care, our first responders, ongoing medical care” as her top priority. 

“Then it should go to people who are food and housing insecure because they are the ones who live at the margin the most in an economic decline,” Mitrano mentioned. 

The third level of disbursement would be directed to municipalities and schools “so they can stay afloat and open safely,” in her own words. 

“Then it needs to go out to your unemployed, and they need to be covered. On top of that we need it for our small businesses… I am absolutely for continuing to stimulate our economy through these kinds of bills, but we must pay attention to the pyramid and stop giving it to the top. Give it in the order in which people in the society need it,” she outlined.

“I have learned to stop being a teacher and to start being a politician.”

Teaching has always been Mitrano’s strong suit as her primary profession, but now she has learned to steer away from lecturing for too long until she might get a chance to serve on Capitol Hill. 

Controversy has always been apparent throughout Mitrano’s back-to-back campaign bids. 

At one time, she recalls when an individual claimed that he was a student journalist when in fact actually disguised himself while interning for Reed’s office. 

“What they do with that recording is they take and cut in paste pieces of what I’m saying that I am not supporting or not,” Mitrano remembered.

DiSanto Propane (Billboard)

In fact, that’s the only change she has taken under full advisement during this entire election cycle from a campaigning standpoint. 

“So, if anyone wants to know what is the one thing that Tracy learning is doing differently, I am very careful about what I say because I have learned how it can be used against me and I am very clear about what my positions are, and if anyone wants the educational version of it, they’re going to have to wait till I go back to a classroom,” she explained. 

Most recently, however, Mitrano is currently filing a cease and desist letter against Reed in an effort to “stop airing an ad with baseless and defamatory allegations about his opponent,” according to a press release from her campaign office.

The presser also noted that her office is officially issuing formal complaints with the Federal Election Commission and Federal Communications Commission. 

Mitrano desired to dive deeper into this issue, claiming that Reed is “running instead on a single. That’s all he’s running on.” 

“Tom Reed is making a claim that is absolutely not true. I am in support of law enforcement. I want to fund the police, and I support Black Lives Matter movement,” she elaborated. 

She considers the newest ad as one many “grotesque advertisements,” suggesting that Reed “extrapolated her position from Facebook” and insisting “extrapolation is not a defense to defamation.”

“It’s a farce. It’s political theater at its worst.”

Mitrano also sought to address another recent controversy surrounding a situation that occurred at Reed’s Corning office, which resulted in an act of vandalism back in late-August. 

An unidentified assailant threw a brick through the front glass window of Reed’s office on Market Street in the town of Corning in the early hours of Wednesday, August 26. 

Since then, Mitrano has publicly called for “a thorough investigation,” promising that she neither her campaign “having nothing to hide.” 

“I have asked the mayor of Corning repeatedly, Bill Bolin, to do a thorough investigation because I have nothing to hide. None of us associated with this campaign have anything to hide,” she expressed. 

Mitrano alluded to the fact that Reed is trying to “create guilt by association” by pitting her platform in alignment with the vandalism incident. 

“He used the pronoun she when talking about who threw the brick and then alluded to, we’ve got to stop this extremism on the far left. So, you see exactly what he’s trying to do and trying to set up. It’s a farce. It’s political theater at its worst,” she claimed. 

For Mitrano, she believes that these remarks from Reed show how he “thinks cynically about the people in this district.”

Although she didn’t publicly comment about whether Reed or someone affiliated with his office actually fabricated the entire event, Mitrano actually admitted that she’s been asked the same question quite often, saying that everyone is left with plenty of questions only to be answered. 

“It makes one wonder under those circumstances where he brings all of the TV stations in, and he makes these allegations without a shred of evidence and he is running on this position that his opponent is far left. It just makes one wonder,” she said. 

“Reed and Trump are two peas in a pod.” 

Just like last cycle, Mitrano is trying to paint a picture to voters that Reed represents Trump for the 23rd District, taking it one step further by arguing that he actually enables the president. 

She asked, “Has Tom Reed denounced President Trump’s proclivity for really far out there conspiracy theories? Has Tom Reed said anything to help this pandemic or he just enabled a pathetically failed president to protect the people of the United States in the best ways that we could have against this pandemic?” 

“He has enabled this president from start to finish. He talks about his bipartisanship. It’s a sideshow. It’s political theater. It has no influence in the halls of power in Congress,” she later elaborated.

Mitrano even took a jab at the Problem Solvers Caucus, saying “no one pays attention to them, not Mnuchin, not Trump, not Pelosi, not McConnell, no one’s paying attention to this little sideshow.” 

In fact, Mitrano considers the Trump-Reed connection as clear as day while serving as the chair for the president’s reelection campaign in New York. 

But Mitrano believes that Reed has tried to step away from Trump’s spotlight as her race with him has become increasingly more competitive. 

“Since Trump’s numbers have been going down, Tom Reed has attempted to distance himself. He can’t distance himself until he takes himself off that committee. Otherwise, the connection speaks for itself,” she elaborated. 

“The really pathetic thing is he has nothing else to run on. He’s not running on his record. He’s failed this district. He is trying to distract people using fear mongering in order to keep them from asking a simple question, Tom Reed in 10-years: what have you done for us, because he cannot answer that question in a way that complements his representation,” she suggested.

“I believe that I can do better.” 

With only five days left until this election season officially ends, Mitrano offers one final plea to undecided voters on why she should represent them on behalf of the district.

At the same time, however, she even claimed that Reed and her have overlapping lived-experiences. They both went to law school and suffered life-altering hardships, according to Mitrano. 

 In spite of some striking similarities, she emphasizes that the choice between her and Reed can’t be any clearer in 2020. 

“Give me a chance. I’ll take that same drive, commitment, dedication, intelligence to Congress and get your results,” Mitrano concluded.