By John Purcell
SCOTIA — Rep. Paul Tonko stopped in challenger Bob Dieterich’s hometown to hear resident’s thoughts and concerns as Election Day draws nearer and while the crowd showed him substantial support, Dieterich’s presence could be felt even though he wasn’t present.
There was a full house with standing room only at Tonko’s town hall styled meeting on Monday, Aug. 6, in Scotia at Lincoln Elementary School’s cafeteria. Several residents aired grievances and worries about the country’s slow economic recovery, stagnant employment growth and the increasing influence of super PACs on politics and government priorities.
Attendees were mostly supportive of Tonko’s message and replies, but Dieterich’s presence was lingering, with some of his supporters appearing in the Republican’s campaign shirts and even bringing campaign pamphlets.
Before Tonko addressed the crowd there were around half-a-dozen Dieterich supporters rallying outside the school as people entered. Dieterich announced beforehand he wouldn’t attend the meeting so as not to “make a circus” at the event out of “respect to the office.” He did urge supporters in his statement to attend and “force Paul Tonko to defend his ridiculous claims” made at previous town hall meetings in Colonie and Albany.
Near the end of the hour-and-a-half meeting, Tonko faced his first question from a clear Dieterich supporter.
“You’ve been a career politician basically for 30 years … it has been 30 years since you lived off the taxpayer’s dime,” said Glenville resident Marc Depew. The audience reacted with a mixture of “boos” and clapping.
“The little guys like us who do pay a mortgage and go to work every day at a real job,” Depew said before being interrupted by the audience, “we are wondering why you think that you would be a better congressman than somebody like Bob Dieterich who has worked his way up through the ranks.”
Tonko said he would not dignify Depew’s remarks with a response, but he said he’s a good representative because he works overtime, doesn’t have another job and has taken many initiatives on community projects.
“I see myself as a marketing agent for the community that I represent,” Tonko said.
He also pointed to his background as an engineer and said it is important to have a wide variety of professions and experiences represented in congress. He also said “some banking industry types” lead the country into an economic crisis. Dietrich is a banker.
“I’m not saying my opponent did,” Tonko added.
Disputing Tonko’s claims he’s worked to create a business-friendly environment and spur economic growth, Dieterich’s campaign pointed to the National Federation of Independent Business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council consistently ranking Tonko poorly on voting records for the groups’ respective legislative priorities.
“Paul Tonko’s votes in the House of Representatives have not helped our struggling families or our small businesses which are the real job creators in this country,” Dieterich said in a statement. “We need to repeal and replace Paul Tonko with a pro-business, pro-growth, solutions-driven congressman and I am confident that the people of this district will agree on Election Day.”
Tonko criticized those scorecards and ranking systems, saying they are not representative of the small businesses he wants to work for.
“If you want these lobbying groups out of Washington to take a scorecard and six or eight bills that are about drilling … and repealing health care without replacement … I think the more meaningful measure is coming right from the people I represent,” Tonko said.
The newly redrawn 20th Congressional District includes Albany and Schenectady counties and portions of Montgomery, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties.
At the meeting, small business co-owner Ed Capovani, vice president of Capovani Brothers, Inc., said he’s frustrated “the people in this room don’t have a say in government” and campaign finance reform is needed so people can have their voice heard.
“When you have someone like our candidate for president (Mitt Romney) who paid 13 percent in taxes because of the loopholes in this country, it is disgusting,” Capovani said.
Capovani said if Tonko plans to support ending the Bush tax cuts he also must work to close the loopholes.
Regarding super PACs, Tonko said he is pushing to first force the groups to disclose who or what special interest is donating to the political committees. He said PACs are accountable, but super PACs go unwatched.
Constitutional reform, which Tonko said would be the next step, would likely take longer to achieve.
Rick Sawyer, of Scotia, said the economic disparity is growing in the country, with “42 percent of the wealth of this country is controlled by 1 percent of population.”
Sawyer said if wealth was more equitable most of the troubles and concerns facing Americans today wouldn’t be happening.
“There is a upper class and a lower class — there is no middle class,” Sawyer said.
Tonko said the middle class is “at risk” and he pushed for a middle class tax cut to lower expenses for 98 percent of the population, but GOP leaders wouldn’t approve the measure.
“When you’ve had exponential growth in the income in households of the 1 percent and 2 percent and you’ve seen a flat line or a dipping south of the middle class, that ought to be an alarm,” Tonko said. “We cannot continue that way.”