A "Who's Who" of NY19 Democratic Congressional Candidates | National | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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A "Who's Who" of NY19 Democratic Congressional Candidates 

Taking a look at the crowded field running to challenge Republican John Faso in November

Last Updated: 06/12/2018 2:16 am
click to enlarge Candidates from left to right—Jeff Beals, David Clegg, Erin Collier, Antonio Delgado, Brian Flynn, Gareth Rhodes, Pat Ryan—at a forum in Kingston on April 26.
  • Candidates from left to right—Jeff Beals, David Clegg, Erin Collier, Antonio Delgado, Brian Flynn, Gareth Rhodes, Pat Ryan—at a forum in Kingston on April 26.

The post-2016 age, or “Trump era,” has served as an inflection point for a beleaguered and disheartened Democratic party looking to reconnect with grassroots and blue-collar voters. In some ways it has been a period of unprecedented unity. In Congress, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate respectively, have been able to keep their caucuses firmly in line when voting on key pieces of Trump and GOP legislation. But 2018 Democratic primary elections have not been so docile, with many moderate and liberal incumbents facing fierce challenges from progressive insurgents. From California to Illinois to West Virginia, and right here in New York with our gubernatorial race, the “blue wave”—the surge of Democratic enthusiasm that has led to massive leftward swings in house special elections in 2017—threatens to topple as many Democratic incumbents as Republicans. New York’s 19th District election, one with no Democratic incumbent, is a different story altogether.

It’s a race to the left here in the Democratic primary for New York’s 19th Congressional District. the Hudson Valley. There are seven candidates facing off to challenge incumbent Republican John Faso in November—Jeff Beals, David Clegg, Erin Collier, Antonio Delgado, Brian Flynn, Gareth Rhodes, and Pat Ryan. The candidates broadcast a unified message of change and new leadership. Stark differences are not ideological, for the most part, but rather in their characters, personalities, and demeanors.

With the New York primary rapidly approaching on June 26, it's time to figure out who's who before casting those ballots. Here is a rundown of the candidates.

Antonio Delgado - The Man to Beat

Antonio Delgado, a lawyer from Rhinebeck who towers over his opponents, both in physical stature and in gravitas, combines modern progressive flavor with a similar swagger, rags-to-riches biography and Ivy League pedigree to that of Barack Obama. Like Obama, Delgado presents himself to voters as a savvy, hard working, and intellectual lawyer from humble beginnings who will be able to take their progressive hopes to Washington and get them enacted. Furthermore, Delgado’s family is central to his campaign, with his cohesive unit being looked upon admirably by the electorate, just as Obama’s was. But Delgado’s similarities to Obama may be as much his greatest weakness as his greatest strength. Delgado presents himself almost as the presumptive nominee, based on the fact that he has raised by far the most money—he's raised nearly $2 million dollars as of the end of March—and he's put forth a message that he is the most viable candidate to take on John Faso. In a year with an anti-incumbency sentiment within the Democratic party, being something of the de-facto incumbent might not be the best position. 

That said, Delgado is comfortable in front of a room of people and has both the political and policy chops to supplement his compelling personal character. In the Kingston High School forum on April 26, he answered a question about racism and white supremacy deftly, skillfully combining his work with underprivileged youth with an overarching message on criminal justice reform, highlighting wealth challenges in minority communities as the root cause of racial inequality. This nuanced yet concise answer, and the many others like it, demonstrated why Delgado may be the man to beat.

Brian Flynn - The Happy Warrior

We all knew a “fun dad” growing up—the kind of guy who is as comfortable in a room of 5th graders as a room of adults, who is incredibly smart but still down to earth. That’s Brian Flynn, a corporate executive and activist from Greene County, in a nutshell. Flynn definitely wins the award for most lighthearted candidate, synthesizing an outward personal empathy with a compassionate progressive message aimed at appealing to those voters who feel the US is broken and that we need a healer, and “lifelong progressive,” in Washington.

Flynn has the greatest personal wealth of any candidate, having personally donated nearly half of the $1.4 million his campaign has raised, but you wouldn’t know it from his everyman charm. This works in tandem with one particular aspect of his campaign, the ‘Flynn and Riggs’ show, a series of Facebook videos with his campaign manager Carolyn Riggs that sometimes give an intimate look into Flynn’s looser and more personal side, a rare perspective in political campaigns. At the Kingston forum, Flynn probably had some of the strongest messaging of the night, connecting with the audience and painting himself as something of a father figure for the people of New York’s 19th. Those voting with their hearts may be inclined to cast their ballots for Flynn.

Pat Ryan - Calm, Cool, Collected

If there is a moderate in this race, it’s Pat Ryan. Still very much a progressive, Ryan, a West Point graduate, Iraq veteran, and tech businessman from Kingston, demonstrated a cool, battle-tested demeanor in both his character and ideology. Many of his proposals—and much of his ideology—are centered around his service record. He advocates for a national public service to “create opportunities for young people from very different, diverse backgrounds to come together,” and invokes his experience in the military (using assault-style weapons) to explain that there is no need for civilians to have weapons that are designed only to kill.

In spite of his coolness—or perhaps because of it—Ryan doesn't stand out much among the candidates beyond his comparative lack of fervor for hardcore progressivism such as that demonstrated by Jeff Beals. At the forum, however, he did have a particularly strong answer on a question regarding the environment, in which he made the compelling assertion that the environmental factors of New York’s 19th such as Hoosick Falls and Hudson River, are some of its most important assets, and that by doing damage to those natural wonders, coal and gas companies are not benefiting the economy of the area in the long run. Ryan has said that he has the rural and working class background that could best connect with the more moderate and conservative voters in the district. This is a strategy likely aimed at ameliorating concerns that Ryan would face similar electoral problems to those of the district’s previous Democratic nominees—Sean Eldridge and Zephyr Teachout, both progressives from New York City—faced when reaching out to non-progressive communities in their bids.

Gareth Rhodes - Showing Them How It’s Done

Gareth Rhodes, a former Andrew Cuomo staffer from Kingston, obviously feels he has a lot to prove to the voters of New York’s 19th, and he’s doing everything he can to show people he’s ready to represent them in Washington. At 29, Rhodes is by far the youngest of the seven candidates and it’s pretty easy to tell, both by his shaky stumping and his optimistic approach to campaigning. Rhodes is doing something very innovative with his campaign that voters should probably take note of. He is trying to insulate himself from the failures of previous nominees by supplementing his nearly $700,000 in contributions with a tour of all 163 towns in the district, from Kingston to Albany and everything in between (it should be noted that Teachout did visit all 163 towns as the nominee). 

His experience connecting with people from communities—red, blue, and purple—is apparent. He shares timely personal anecdotes and stories of constituents that reflect on current policy predicaments. But despite this individualized, community-centric approach, he comes off as somewhat stiff and inexperienced—like a high schooler presenting a class presentation—giving his great ideas a lackluster delivery. Rhodes shines, however, when talking about foreign policy, being one of the few candidates to bring up the importance of cybersecurity in modern policymaking at the April forum. He believes firmly that reaching out to the independents and Republicans is the key to both winning in November and bridging the partisan divide plaguing our nation.

Jeff Beals - The Wonk of Main Street

Like Delgado, Jeff Beals’ candidacy evokes the image of a national political figure: Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic socialist who gave eventual nominee Hillary Clinton a run for her money in the 2016 primary. Like Sanders, Beals, a former US diplomat and teacher from Woodstock, is running to the left of his opponents and running more on ideas than personality. He has been endorsed by the Justice Democrats, a group of former Bernie advisors working to elect progressives across the country and get super PAC money out of politics. An impressive speaker, Beals offers impassioned pleas for as much a progressive mindset on the issues facing the people of New York's 19th as progressive solutions to them. He condemns the fact that businesses can be absolved of debt while students can’t and questions why he has to perform active shooter drills with his students.

Beals’ compelling policy statements come at a deficit of presenting his personality to the audience. His true self, it seems, is hidden behind his wonkish dedication to his ideology, for better or worse. At the April forum, he criticized Delgado and Ryan for supporting universal health care as opposed to Medicare-for-all, arguing that you can cut costs and treat everyone with such a healthcare system. It was a strong rebuke, and one that further solidified his ideological purity. If you’re a solid leftist voting on the issues, Beals might be your man.

David Clegg - Pillar of the Community

David Clegg, a lawyer from Kingston, is something of the uncle or grandfatherly figure in this race. At 65, Clegg is the oldest candidate, which may actually bolster his candidacy in a race where older progressives are highly energized and still hold substantial voting power, and where community roots will likely play a big role after candidates like Teachout and Eldridge—plastered as Carpetbaggers for migrating up to New York's 19th from New York City—consistently fell to their Republican opponents. Indeed, Clegg has a track record of  community involvement, from serving as a local deacon to coaching high school basketball. He has also worked for the NAACP and represented the Lakota Sioux tribes. Like Flynn, Clegg has a sizable personal fortune and has personally donated two thirds of his campaign’s $650,000.

But Clegg defies the stereotypes associated with people of his age and wealth, putting forth solidly progressive positions on issues like the environment, healthcare, and education. His strongest statement at the April forum came on a question about gun control in which he made a sophisticated connection between the issue of campaign finance and gun violence, arguing that the NRA has been given outsized lobbying power in our political system thanks to our broken campaign finance system. Clegg has the eloquence, legal background and community roots to be a strong contender, but with so many youthful opponents, he may have difficulty emerging victorious.

Erin Collier - Devil’s in the Details

Erin Collier, a former agricultural economist for the Obama administration, farmer, and triathlete from Cooperstown, is a workhorse. A farmer and self-described “working-class” woman, Collier reliably offers most quantitative, policy-based answers to questions, giving voters good reason to believe she would be able to tackle the legislative challenges she might face in Congress. However, Collier, like Beals, fails to present the audience with a distinct personality or character with upon which to base their impression of her. She is, without a doubt, the greatest underdog in the race, having raised just under $100,000 and being the last Democrat to enter the race. When I was polling audience members, one voicing of support for Collier was met with gasps and the question, "why?".

But she shouldn’t be discounted, especially considering her seemingly iron-willed work ethic, not to mention her true-blue history in the Hudson Valley. She hails from an eighth generation Cooperstown family spanning back to the Revolutionary War, after whom Colliersville, NY, is named. Nobody could ever accuse her of being a carpetbagger, that's for sure. At the April forum, Collier answered a question about immigration by first giving a testimonial in Spanish, wowing the crowd with her fluency. This was no Tim Kaine-style high school Spanish, it was the real deal. There’s no doubt that Collier is an impressive woman, and she probably has what it takes to serve the people of the Hudson Valley in Congress, but she might not have what it takes to make it out of the primary race.

New York State Primaries

New York's state and federal primary is rapidly approaching on June 26, 2018. Don't forget to vote! Register here.

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