Four-term incumbent has two challengers for seat
Sean Patrick Maloney, Chele Farley and Scott Smith sparred last week over the federal response to COVID-19, police reform, taxes and legalizing marijuana in the race to represent the U.S. House district that includes the Highlands.
Maloney, the incumbent and a Democrat, seeks his fifth term; Farley, a Republican, ran for the U.S. Senate in 2018; and Smith, the candidate for the Serve America Movement, also challenged Maloney in 2014. They squared off on Oct. 19 in a debate held by videoconference and organized by the USA Today Network New York and News 12 Westchester.
It was the only debate during the campaign that involved all three candidates. The League of Women Voters had invited all three to attend a forum on Oct. 14 but Maloney declined and Farley said she would only participate if Maloney were there. Maloney and Farley did square off in an Oct. 22 forum held via Zoom by the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Maloney lives in Philipstown, while Farley and Smith reside in Orange County.
Reasons for running
Each candidate began and ended the forum by explaining why he or she is running. Farley and Smith argued for sending a new voice to Washington, D.C. Maloney cited his experience and support across party lines. He and Farley mostly focused their attention on each other, leaving Smith to promote a “none of the above” option.
Smith, who lives in Goshen and is a former member of the Middletown City Council, said he was “concerned that our politics, as it exists, is very harmful and is destroying our nation. I want to make the case that there are more than just the two tired choices of the past.” He said that if voters “are seeking a candidate to serve party above all, then you have those choices. If you want a candidate who will endeavor to faithfully, objectively represent you and all of us here in the district, you have that choice as well.”
Farley, an engineer and business owner who lives in Tuxedo, said that “engineers fix things and there is no bigger mess to fix than Congress.” She said “businesses need more help after shutdowns, and unemployment is too high. We’re told our country is divided, but I see Americans coming together to overcome COVID. What’s broken is Congress. But we can’t just change it by voting for the same people again and again.”
Maloney cited his “bipartisan record of results: 40 bills passed into law, helping our veterans, protecting our drinking water, getting oil-barge anchorages off the Hudson River forever, investing in roads and bridges and safer commuter rails.” During the pandemic, he said, “I’ve secured billions of dollars for our health care providers, our small businesses, our family farms and our heroic educators.”
Farley and Maloney differed along party lines on whether President Donald Trump, a Republican, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, deserve praise or criticism for their handling of the pandemic.
“I don’t think Trump has taken the pandemic seriously enough and we’re paying a terrible price,” said Maloney. “Here in New York we’ve done quite well. I’ll give Cuomo pretty high marks.”
Farley argued that “Trump has done a good job. Our GDP [gross domestic product] has bounced back better than most of the other developed nations. And we’ve made incredible strides in getting a vaccine.” In contrast, she said, New York “is the state with the most deaths from COVID. So I would give Cuomo low marks and Trump high marks.”
Smith, a middle-school science teacher, said that “in terms of appearance,” he would give Trump “probably a low mark,” but “in terms of actual action, probably a mediocre mark.” He said Cuomo gets “aces” for appearance “but in terms of substance, I believe he’s made many mistakes. The other problem is that we have so many dishonest voices in the conversation that it’s hard to trust what anybody says.”
Their views on mask-wearing also differed.
Maloney termed a mask “perhaps the best tool we have to fight the pandemic, maybe even more effective than a future vaccine. So everyone should wear a mask. It’s our patriotic duty.” He advocated federal officials consider “whatever means are necessary” to ensure Americans wear masks.
Smith expressed doubts “the federal government has a role there. It’s probably more of a state issue. But when you have people in government at every level who contradict their own policies and are demonstrating hypocrisy and inconsistency in the way they apply their policies, you get pushback from the public.”
Farley said she “would not have a federal mandate for masks” and attacked Maloney because he was “not back in D.C. right now, actually getting additional funding for testing” and further economic aid for those left jobless by the pandemic. She said Maloney “talks about being bipartisan, but we haven’t been able to get a bipartisan bill passed.”
Maloney responded that in the House, “on a bipartisan basis, working across the aisle, we passed three or four major [COVID] relief packages, totaling over $3 trillion.”
Farley said that “I support the police” while “the defund-the-police movement backs my opponent,” referring to Maloney.
Maloney countered that “I do not support defunding the police. I support our police, good community policing, but I also support justice and anti-racist initiatives.”
They disagreed over a bill proposed by Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. Farley said it would ban federal officers’ use of chokeholds and provide funds for body cameras, training and data collection on use of force.
Maloney dismissed the proposal as “window dressing” that would “not do what she says and would not ban chokeholds.” He promoted an alternative, named for George Floyd, a Black man who died while under police restraint, which he said “has real teeth. It would put body cameras on every officer and every car. It would keep real data on police misconduct, so we don’t just move bad cops around. Bad cops are bad for good cops. I know most police officers are good people who are risking their lives for us, but we need to also fight systemic racism.”
Concurring that “there is racism in our country,” Farley said Americans “must do all we can to stop it. I don’t know what it is like to be a Black man or woman. But I do listen to those who do.”
Smith said he is “not familiar enough” with the federal legislation to comment. “We do need to act in this area, but again, the problem lies largely in that government has made mistakes.” Moreover, he said, Americans “do not even all agree on what the term justice means.” Until they do, “we’re not going to find any common ground to advance here.”
Maloney said he opposed changes to the tax code championed by the Trump administration because “85 percent of the benefits went to the richest Americans” and helped corporations, while teachers and police officers can’t deduct costs of school supplies or uniforms.
Likewise, “it screwed New York because it took away our state and local tax deductions. I’m working every day to bring back those deductions,” as proposed in the Heroes’ Act.
Farley said she opposes the Heroes’ Act since it would eliminate cash bail at the federal level and, she said, “an absolute disaster” ensued after a New York law severely limiting the use of cash bail took effect this year.
She endorsed Trump’s tax cuts “because they gave an extra $2,000 to the average family across the United States. That was very helpful in this district, as well.” She said she favors allowing New Yorkers more leeway for write-offs.
Smith said he had “honestly not studied the details enough to give an informed answer” on the tax code changes. “I have a day job,” he said. He expressed concern about “raising taxes on Americans, especially in the current climate.” Further, he said, “whether we had a Democrat or Republican representing us in the House would not have changed” the loss of the state and local tax deduction.
When asked about federal legalization of marijuana, Farley said she supports medical marijuana but not recreational use.
Smith said his biggest concern “is that often government sees tax dollars flowing in, and benefits at the ballot box, and they give that higher priority than whether it’s really good for the public.”
Maloney said he “would support full legalization, with the appropriate regulation and oversight and taxing. It’s time.”