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Water Town Daily Times - Congressional Candidates Trade Shots in TV Debates

News Article

Location: Plattsburgh, NY

By Joe Lotemplio

Sharp words were exchanged during the second debate among the 21st Congressional District candidates, but did trailing Democrat Aaron G. Woolf do enough?

The answer, according to one political observer, is no.

"No candidate won this debate because the fundamental dynamic of the contest did not change," SUNY Plattsburgh political science professor Harvey Schantz said after Wednesday night's hourlong clash, televised live from SUNY Plattsburgh.

"Aaron Woolf had to do something to shake things up, and I did not see that happening," he said.

Mr. Woolf was trailing Republican Elise M. Stefanik by 8 points following the latest poll, with Green Party candidate Matthew J. Funiciello well behind, receiving the support of only 8 percent of those polled.

The first half of the debate was relatively mild, as the candidates fielded questions from panelists and moderators George Mallett, Stephanie Gorin and Stewart Ledbetter.

It got a little testy when, at one point, Mr. Funiciello demanded that Mr. Woolf address him, not just Ms. Stefanik.

"I worked long and hard to get on the ballot, and I would appreciate it if you addressed me as an opponent, as well," Mr. Funiciello said.

Mr. Woolf became agitated when Ms. Stefanik interrupted him as he answered a question about rail shipment of oil through the region.

"You've interrupted me several times. Is that the way you are going to represent us in Washington?" Mr. Woolf said.

He also brought up Ms. Stefanik's leaving in the middle of a news conference in late summer without answering a question.

"Why did you leave?" Mr. Woolf said.

Ms. Stefanik responded by calling Mr. Woolf's campaign "a nightmare" and saying that he ducked the public the first month after announcing he was running.

Midway through the debate, Ms. Stefanik turned her attention to Mr. Funiciello, who owns a bakery in Glens Falls, asking how he managed to bake such great bread. She also asked Mr. Funiciello to tell Mr. Woolf why he should drop out of the race.

"Why don't you drop out, too?" Mr. Funiciello told Ms. Stefanik with a laugh.

He went on to say that voters across the country have been choosing either Democrats or Republicans for Congress for decades, and that Congress has failed.

"How's that working for you?" Mr. Funiciello said of major-party candidates. "You have a chance to change things. Be brave; take it."

When Ms. Stefanik pressed Mr. Woolf on foreign affairs, he distanced himself from President Barack Obama, saying the president has failed on Syria and on his handling of Ebola.

When Mr. Woolf asked Ms. Stefanik what she meant by saying that small business does not have a seat at the table when discussing raising the minimum wage, Mr. Funiciello jumped in.

"I'm right here," he said with a wave.

Ms. Stefanik told Mr. Woolf that he has lost credibility on the minimum-wage issue because he does not pay workers at the Brooklyn grocery store he partly owns the $10.10 per hour he is proposing.

Mr. Funiciello asked Mr. Woolf how much his Elizabethtown home is worth and how much a year he pays in taxes on it.

Mr. Woolf did not answer, saying instead: "Matt's point is valid. There is too much money in politics."

He added that Ms. Stefanik's campaign appears to be backed by national Republican leaders such as Karl Rove, while his is not beholden to anyone.

"They (outsiders) are investing, and they want a return," Mr. Woolf said.

Mr. Schantz, the SUNY professor, said Mr. Funiciello, who has raised only about $30,000 while both Mr. Woolf and Ms. Stefanik are approaching $1 million, had the most to gain in the debate.

"He has no money for advertising, the least name recognition and was the least favorable in the polls," Mr. Schantz said. "The big question is: Where is he going to get votes from? Is he going to get votes from Greens, Democrats or Republicans or from new voters?"

The candidates are scheduled to appear in the third and final debate Tuesday in Watertown

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