MALONE - With one week left until Election Day, two of the candidates running for New York's 115th Assembly District met for a debate Tuesday night, and they both agreed on one thing above all others: It's time to replace the incumbent.
The informal, town hall-style debate was held at the Franklin County Courthouse. It featured Karen Bisso, an educator from Plattsburgh running on the Conservative Party line, and Democrat Tim Carpenter, a correction officer who works in Malone and lives in Plattsburgh. Incumbent Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, who will be on the Republican and Independence party lines in Tuesday's election, had said she wasn't able to attend because of prior commitments.
Pat Bradley of WAMC public radio moderated the debate, which featured a variety of questions from the dozen or so people who attended. Several members of the press attended, including reporters from the Malone Telegram, Plattsburgh Press-Republican and YNN-TV.
Democrat Tim Carpenter, left, speaks at an Assembly debate in Malone on Tuesday night. He and Conservative Karen Bisso spoke freely about a variety of issues for about two hours at the Franklin County Courthouse.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
In her opening statement, Bisso asked the audience if they felt things were better in New York state than they were three or four years ago; no one responded. She then asked if people were getting more money in their paychecks than they did several years ago, and again, no one answered.
Bisso said Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers like Duprey tout the fact that Albany has passed two consecutive balanced budgets, but she questioned whether that has translated to relief for struggling New Yorkers.
"For the last eight months and roughly 27,000 miles that I've put on my car, I've spent time listening to people tell me how upside-down the state of New York is," she said.
Carpenter stressed his North Country roots during his opening remarks. He noted that he still lives on the same street he grew up on.
He said he's unhappy with the direction the state is headed in.
"I'm worried that a lot of the politicians in there are in there for themselves," he said. "I would be a totally different person and attack things in a totally different way than she has."
For the next two hours, the candidates often found themselves in agreement as they tackled questions on unfunded mandates, the state's 2 percent property tax cap, the size of government, state land purchases and rural life.
The only notable disagreement came when an audience member asked the candidates about how they would have handled the 2011 vote on same-sex marriage. The questioner said he didn't think Duprey's vote for the legislation reflected the beliefs of the district.
Carpenter, who mentioned that he is Catholic, said he would have voted for the bill. He said he believes in a separation of church and state, and that lawmakers should protect the rights of everyone in the district, although he wouldn't force a church to marry a same-sex couple if it went against its beliefs.
"I have to allow everybody in my district to be able to marry," he said. "I need to make sure that the rules exist for everybody."
Carpenter was referring to tax and health insurance benefits offered to married couples in New York state. He said those rights should be extended to all couples, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Bisso said she would have voted against the bill and believes marriage is between a man and a woman. She said the inequities that Carpenter referenced could have been tackled in another way. She said she would have actively sought to change the tax and insurance problems through other outlets without changing the definition of the word marriage.
"The definition of the word marriage has been forever changed in New York state," Bisso said.
Pat O'Connor of Chateauguay told the candidates that creating jobs would invigorate the North Country's economy and asked what they would do to spur job growth.
Carpenter used the opportunity to attack Duprey for retiring from the Assembly and returning two days later so she could collect her paycheck and her pension at the same time. He said Duprey did that at a time when jobs were being lost and unions were making concessions.
"This is probably the main reason that I decided, 'This is wrong; I have to run,'" Carpenter said.
Bisso said job growth isn't accelerating because Albany believes it's responsible for it. Instead, she said government needs to create a climate for the private sector to create jobs.
To do that, Bisso said five things need to happen:
The regulatory climate must improve.
Banks need to lend more money.
There needs to be a skilled work force.
There must be a great education system.
The state needs to embrace technology.
"That's why we're stagnant: because the state doesn't embrace those concepts and it believes it's the answer," Bisso said.
"It's hard to get the Assembly to agree on those terms," O'Connor responded.
Bob White, a lawyer from Saranac Lake who's active in the Conservative Party, asked the candidates which side they would take in the ongoing debate over the Adirondack rail corridor between Lake Placid and Old Forge.
Carpenter said he's followed the controversy and would love it if both sides could be appeased.
"I wish there was a way for it to be both ways, but I understand that it can't," Carpenter said. "In the end I would want to go with the decision that can bring in the most amount of money into the area through tourism. My understanding is that removal of the rails and making it accessible for multi-modal ATVs, bicycles, snowshoes, cross-country skis, would actually bring about the most tourism into the area. At this point, that's where I would side."
Bisso said the economic impact needs to drive the decision. She said to upgrade the rails would be expensive, as much as $43 million by some estimates, and the state can't afford to do that. She said salvaging the rails to create a trail would cost much less.
Bisso also added that the Adirondack Scenic Railroad only pulled in $5,400 last year.
"I think that because of the economic climate of the state right now, we have to go with something that's more of a sure thing," Bisso said.
Duprey is a strong supporter of the train.
The debate also featured discussions about term limits, the regional economic development councils, Medicaid relief and the state Adirondack Park Agency.
After the debate, White said he was impressed by both candidates, although he plans to vote for Bisso.
"I thought they both did a great job," he said. "It's a shame that Janet Duprey wouldn't show up in Malone to take part in it."