The new congressional representative for Saratoga Springs was grilled on sequestration, the New York City Ballet, energy and how he gets such good seats for the State of the Union presentation during a town hall forum Saturday afternoon.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, spoke for about 20 minutes at the Saratoga Springs City Center before taking questions from the crowd of about 50, mostly supporters and local Democrats.
There was a lot of applause during the event and only one hostile moment, when a heckler highlighted the fact that the Citizens United case allowed unions the same spending freedoms as corporations. The case eliminated many political spending restrictions for corporations and unions and gave them many of the same powers as a person.
The crowd approvingly listened to Tonko talk about capping the pay for executives benefiting from government contracts, utilizing clean energy and efficient technology, balancing the budget with a progressive tax code and limiting the availability of high-capacity magazines for guns.
Multiple questioners asked about the sequester, specifically how it would impact Head Start programs and federal employees. Tonko said he would support restoring funding of Head Start, which will have about 4,300 spots cut in New York as part of spending reductions by the sequester. Responding to a federal worker worried about being furloughed, Tonko lamented the potential pain this will cause for families across the country and after the forum recommended the woman contact New York’s two U.S. senators.
Louise Goldstein, who has been involved with the Save the Ballet movement at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, informed Tonko about the gradual decrease in performances locally by the ballet. She noted how the residency used to last three weeks and is only scheduled for one week this summer. SPAC’s financial limitations have forced the shortening of the ballet visit.
After waxing poetically about the importance of the arts he promised to get involved with the company’s residency at SPAC.
When asked about his seating for recent State of the Union addresses, where Tonko has been very visible during the entrance of President Barack Obama, he revealed that for the most recent speech he was about the first one to arrive.
The meeting concluded with a question from Wilton resident Raymond Brzozowski, who was wearing a red AARP shirt, with a few other similarly dressed people. He decried the lack of products made in America, specifically frying pans, which all seem to be made in China based on his limited recent search. “No frying pans in the United State,” Brzozowski said, asking why this was.
Tonko told him the lack of American manufacturing stemmed from the country’s failure to emphasize this industry. He supports legislation to foster American manufacturing, even though it might not be the products the nation traditionally made in the 20th century.
Before leaving the stage, Tonko addressed the situation referenced by the heckler, who had since left the forum. Tonko argued that the rights granted unions by the Citizens United decision are starkly different from corporations, on the basis that union political spending represents the will of the collective group and corporations are driven mostly by a small cadre.
Because of redistricting, which went into effect for the 2012 election, Tonko's district now includes all of Schenectady and Albany counties and parts of Saratoga, Montgomery and Rensselaer counties.