Politically progressive people in Webster and most parts of Penfield and Irondequoit must be mourning the fact that Congressional redistricting took them out of liberal Democrat Louise Slaughter's 28th District. They're now in the dark realm known as conservative Republican James Walsh's 25th District.
Walsh, who's running for an eighth term this year in a district that also includes Wayne and Onondaga counties and several towns in Cayuga County, is a progressive's worst nightmare. A signatory to the odious "Contract with America" in 1994, Walsh opposes abortion and is a death-penalty advocate. He recently voted in favor of granting President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq, despite acknowledging that Saddam Hussein poses no immediate threat. He's supported funding a Star Wars-style missile defense system, opposed ratification of Kyoto Treaty provisions aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and voted against raising fuel-efficiency standards for cars, light trucks, and SUVs.
In 1999, Congress voted on a bill to provide funds to the District of Columbia and approve the District's budget. Among the legislation's provisions: banning the use of federal money for needle exchange programs or domestic partner health insurance benefits, and blocking implementation of a locally approved ballot initiative legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana. Walsh voted in favor of the bill, which passed on a more-or-less party-line vote. That same year, Walsh opposed a measure to allow gay couples in the District to adopt a child.
We offered Walsh ample opportunity to explain his positions to City readers in a phone or in-person interview, but were informed by his staff that the Congressman couldn't spare the time, even after the House adjourned in mid-October.
Walsh's opponents in the race this year are Stephanie Aldersley, the embattled Democratic Minority Leader in the Monroe County Legislature, and Fran Gavin, a graduate student at Syracuse University running on the Working Families Party line. Neither candidate has the resources and name recognition necessary to pose a serious challenge to Walsh, though both have ideas progressive voters can embrace.
Aldersley and Gavin are both pro-choice and support gay rights and gay marriage. Neither supports an invasion of Iraq, but for different reasons. "I do not believe that the president has yet provided us with a rationale for preemptive first-strike," says Aldersley, "and I don't believe that American or international law provides for preemptive first strike in any case." She's also concerned that Bush hasn't developed an exit strategy in tandem with his invasion plans. "I would have to see that before I would be able to vote for the resolution" granting him authority to invade, she says.
Gavin, a 41-year-old disabled vet, is opposed to using ground troops in Iraq, but wouldn't mind dropping a few bombs on buildings we suspect may contain weapons of mass destruction. "Like Clinton did with the strikes in the Sudan and Afghanistan, you make an isolated strike, you remove that facility," he says. (Of course, it turned out the Sudanese facility was actually a pharmaceutical plant. And the strike in Afghanistan certainly didn't make the world a safer place.)
"I think we'd be much better off pursuing the al Qaeda, finishing off the job there," Gavin says. "Go into Pakistan. If that's where these guys are hiding, let's go in and get them and take care of one problem at a time."
Asked how the US can foster peace between Israel and Palestine, Aldersley and Gavin both say they support the creation of a Palestinian state and criticize the US's seemingly unconditional support of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hawkish government.
"I think the US has to do a far better job of discouraging Israel from populating the settlements," Aldersley says. "I'm of Jewish heritage myself, but I do not support the Sharon administration. I think they've been far too harsh and provocative. Sharon himself has been a provocateur.... I believe that you can be supportive of Israel without supporting the Sharon administration."
Aldersley is also highly critical of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, but, unlike Gavin, she stopped short of saying the Palestinian leader should be removed. Gavin also thinks Jerusalem should be put under UN control. "That way, you have all three faiths that can practice openly, freely, in Jerusalem, and no individual has claims to it," he says, "kind of like the Vatican City is in Rome."
Both Aldersley and Gavin oppose privatizing Social Security --- "How would you like to have your grandma's money in Enron?" Gavin quips. They also have similar views on solving the health-care crisis. Both support universal health care in theory, but have concerns about the effect such a system would have on the economy. Instead, they speak of creating a system in which doctors and nurses get government salaries ("It can be a fairly high salary," Aldersley adds), and hospitals receive block grants based on their individual needs and expenses.
Gavin supports Medicare coverage of prescription drug costs. "We're being basically bent over the barrel backwards by the pharmaceutical companies," he says. He'd like the government to bulk-buy pharmaceuticals for all Social Security recipients, veterans, and others receiving some form of public assistance. Aldersley advocates setting up prescription drug payments on a sliding scale and making low-cost drug insurance available.
When it comes to illegal drugs, both candidates stand in stark relief to Walsh, who's voted to beef up interdiction efforts by deploying the military along our borders. Aldersley says the way to reduce demand is "ultimately through a program of regulation and legalization."
Gavin says drug interdiction efforts are "the cause of racial profiling," and says the bulk of federal funds currently being wasted on interdiction efforts should be allocated to drug treatment for hard-drug addicts. He would legalize the use of marijuana.
"Most of these young black kids in the inner city aren't dealing heavy drugs or lots of drugs," he says. "Yeah, they're pushing a little weed. Yeah, crack's now made its way in there. But if you had a legal alternative like marijuana, then you can beat these other problems. Then you can treat drug addicts for heroin and for cocaine. To send somebody that smokes marijuana to a rehab clinic is useless. It's not an addictive substance."
After Aldersley and her allies in the County Legislature's Democratic caucus ousted José Cruz as minority leader last summer, Mayor Bill Johnson wondered aloud how she and her fellow "conspirators" could ever expect to receive political support again. Sure enough, county, state, and national Democratic Party leaders have since left Aldersley high and dry, refusing to provide significant funds for her bid to unseat Walsh.
While we agree with Aldersley's stand on the issues and feel she would be a capable member of Congress, we have serious concerns about her actions in the Monroe County Legislature. Aldersley's political ladder-climbing has caused discord among local Democrats. That's particularly unfortunate given the county's budget crisis, when a unified Democratic caucus could help protect important social programs from the Republicans' budget ax. Her bid for Congress came shortly after she assumed her seat as Democratic Minority Leader. It's a position that desperately requires her focus. And we can't help but wonder if her campaign for Congress has distracted her from her duties in Monroe County.
Gavin's had his own falling out with Democratic Party players in his neck of the woods, which is what led him to the Working Families Party. However, the Working Families folks haven't done much for him, either.
Perhaps, like us, they know his heart's in the right place, but recognize that his reasoning is often flawed.
Or maybe they just don't know who Gavin is. In early October, we contacted a party organizer in an attempt to reach "Francis Gavin" (his full name). "I don't know anyone who has her number," the party member said.