The candidates for the 21st Congressional District took their seats on stage Thursday night, shaking each other’s hands like they had met this way many times, a cordiality that held into the evening.
This, however, was the first meeting of all seven candidates in the race for the seat held by Rep. Michael McNulty, D-Green Island.
The candidates commented on change and experience, and what levels of each are needed. They also touched on the war in Iraq and health care.
On change and experience, they cited their backgrounds
Tracey Brooks, Democrat, stressed her experience working with organizations in the community, “a different kind of experience.” Brooks is an attorney and a former aide to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Republican candidate James Buhrmaster, president of Buhrmaster Energy Group in Glenville, said he wants to bring his business experience to Congress.
“What we need in Washington today,” Buhrmaster said, “is somebody who is new and different and who can bring a business perspective to Washington, not a career politician.”
The man with a long political resume, Paul Tonko, former Democratic assemblyman in the 105th District, said he has proven he can be the voice of the people.
“I believe I can do that based on experience, life experience, constituent experience, legislative experience,” he said. “All of that is important to the sum total of my ability to provide on behalf of this district.”
Thursday night’s forum at the Albany Jewish Community Center provided an opportunity for the candidates to get in front of voters, introduce themselves and state their positions. About 100 people attended.
Each of the candidates supported withdrawal, to varying degrees, from Iraq, save for Democrat candidate Joseph Sullivan.
Sullivan, a Navy veteran, said the troops ensure we can live well at home by maintaining a steady flow of oil.
“The troops aren’t coming home. Get over it,” Sullivan said, noting his son just returned from serving in Afghanistan. “As long as we need oil in the world, we’re going to have armed forces, military presence in those oil-producing regions.”
Democratic candidate Darius Shahinfar said he supported withdrawal and has signed onto a plan that could do that in six to 16 months.
“Nation building needs to happen over there quickly,” Shahinfar said, “and it’s not going to happen without a timeline for us to say it’s time to get out of Iraq.”
Democratic candidate Phil Steck said he co-sponsored a resolution in the Albany County Legislature in favor of withdrawal.
“I think I’ve shown my commitment to bringing the troops home,” he said, adding he would rely on the military to put together the proper plan. “But I think as civilians we have to make the commitment to withdraw from Iraq.”
Republican candidate Steven Vasquez said we can’t afford to be the military policeman of the world.
“We have to take care of our economy, bring money back so we can grow,” Vasquez said. Vasquez is a former city of Albany Republican chairman and now describes himself as a Tech Valley entrepreneur.
The Republican and Democratic primaries are scheduled for Sept. 9. The district is heavily Democratic and has been in the hands of Democrats for decades, including McNulty’s 20 years. He is retiring at the end of this year.