October 28, 2009

No fireworks in Congressional debate

Staff Writer

PLATTSBURGH — Two of the three candidates running for the 23rd Congressional District spent about 75 minutes fielding questions on a myriad of issues at a forum Wednesday night.

But the biggest news from the event might have been the one candidate who did not show up.

Douglas Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate, was in Plattsburgh on Wednesday but didn't attend the forum in E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium at Plattsburgh State.

Republican Dierdre "Dede" Scozzafava and Democrat William Owens both participated, before a crowd of about 400 people.

The forum was hosted by the Plattsburgh Chapter of United University Professions, the Plattsburgh State Student Association and the Plattsburgh Area League of Women Voters.

It was covered by about a dozen media outlets from local, regional and national operations.

One of them was North Country Public Radio, whose Adirondack Bureau chief, Brian Mann, served as one of the moderators. Mann said he spoke with Hoffman and his campaign team on several occasions, trying to convince them to appear.

Mann said Hoffman apologized for not appearing but offered no explanation.

But Rob Ryan, Hoffman's campaign spokesman, made comments to the Press-Republican about 30 minutes before the event that suggested North Country Public Radio's involvement was the reason Hoffman did not attend.

"North Country Public Radio is the perfect venue to decide who is the most liberal candidate in the race," Ryan said, adding that Hoffman would participate in a televised debate in Syracuse today.

"And he will win that debate," Ryan said.

Ryan's comments angered Mann, who said he gave Hoffman every opportunity to attend the forum, even offering to alter the format if necessary.

"It's not just North Country Public Radio that is covering this. There are a dozen other outlets airing this, and to suggest that he was scared off because it was North Country Public Radio is ludicrous," Mann said.

"If he can't stand the heat of North Country Public Radio, how is he going to stand the heat of a Democratic Congress?"

While Hoffman was missing, Owens and Scozzafava answered questions from Mann and fellow moderator Lindsey Lyons, the Plattsburgh State Student Association president. They also took 10 questions from the audience.

Scozzafava showed a thorough command of the issues, offering detailed answers to most questions.

Owens, while he did not stumble, kept most of his answers shorter and offered fewer details.

On the war in Afghanistan, Scozzafava said it appears that more troops would make it safer for those already serving in that theater, but the president needs to listen to his advisers on the ground.

"If he (president) wants to go in another direction, he needs to let his commanders know," Scozzafava said.

"To not listen to your commanders is a very serious problem."

Owens said protecting American troops is the top priority.

"We need to make sure we do the right thing for security and the right thing by the Afghani people."

When asked how they would deal with dairy manure runoff, which is damaging the environment, Owens said he believes technologies can be developed to deal with the problem.

Scozzafava pounced on his answer, saying new technologies are nice but not if farmers can't afford them.

"Farmers want to be environmentally sensitive, but they can't afford to do anything right now because they are struggling," Scozzafava said.

Throughout the forum, Owens often referred to creating jobs as the way to recover from the economic downturn the country has been in.

"If we develop and create jobs, we will push this economy out of recession."

Scozzafava agreed that creating jobs was critical but not at the expense of raising taxes and increasing spending.

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