The race for the 28th Congressional District pits eight-term Democratic incumbent Louise Slaughter of Fairport, who's also running on the Working Families Party line, against Henry Wojtaszek, the City Attorney of North Tonawanda, who's campaigning on the Republican, Independence, and Conservative party tickets.
Political and regional concerns will likely determine most District 28 voters' decisions this November. A deeper look into the candidates' stands on the issues may not change many minds, but it might make liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans wish there were more than two options this year. Of the two available, we endorse Slaughter.
She's proven herself to be a reasonable and truly independent voice for her constituents. For example, her opposition to the downtown bus transit center, a costly project heavily favored by bigwigs in the county, has not wavered despite intense criticism. Slaughter recognizes that not every local capital project deserves our tax dollars.
The newly redrawn 28th district resembles a bent Q-tip. It swabs up metropolitan Rochester, wanders southeast to soak up East Rochester and parts of Brighton, Penfield, and Perinton, then meanders west along Lake Ontario, ultimately absorbing Niagara Falls and the eastern half of Buffalo.
This makes it easy for moderate Dems in this part of the district to keep ignoring Slaughter's ideological shortcomings. (She's come up short on the Israel/Palestine question, for example: In May 2002, she voted for a House resolution "expressing solidarity with Israel in its fight against terrorism." The measure rightly sympathized with Israeli victims of Palestinian suicide bombers but practically ignored the Israeli occupation and state terror that are killing Palestinians in large numbers.)
Likewise, Republicans in the Q-tip's western end can eagerly endorse a first-time congressional candidate who, politically speaking, is still very much a work-in-progress. Wojtaszek abdicated the chairmanship of the Niagara County Republican Party to make this bid for national office. When it comes to national and international issues, he's still got a lot of homework to do.
Asked if he supports the creation of a universal health care system, he says, "I have a lot of studying to do on that. I certainly think we need to make sure more people are covered within our country." Though he says he's "not ready to advocate for a single-payer system," he cites New York's Child Health Plus insurance program as a step in the right direction. Similarly, he's not calling for Medicare to cover the cost of prescription drugs, but would like to see other states adopt initiatives like New York's EPIC (Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage) program to help the low-income elderly afford their meds.
Wojtaszek served in the Navy's Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, and is still willing to follow the whims of the commander in chief. Though he's currently opposed to an invasion of Iraq, saying "no one wants to go to war," he says he would have voted in favor of the controversial congressional resolution granting President Bush broad authority to initiate an invasion. "At this point, from a strategic standpoint, the president should have that to use in his arsenal," he says.
Bush's soft, often sniveling approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also fine with Wojtaszek, who'd be content if the US just continued to be "a presence in the region," albeit a presence that continues to arm and support one side in the conflict almost exclusively.
Though he's anti-abortion, Wojtaszek isn't a poster boy for the religious right. He supports granting gays and lesbians the same rights and benefits heteros enjoy, and says he "probably would support" gay marriage. He's also in favor of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use and shifting the bulk of federal spending for the war on drugs, which he acknowledges is a failure, away from interdiction and toward treatment and education.
Slaughter supports a similar shift in drug policy, but her comments on the issue illuminate a disconnect with the social, psychological, and economic causes of the problem. "I know that all the money we've spent on interdiction has not worked, but we have to do what we can," she says. "Frankly, I'm not sure that even the treatment is working effectively, either." The 73-year-old Congresswoman says "it's baffling to me that it could be lost on anybody what the outcome is when you start taking drugs... Why people do that to themselves, I just don't understand."
We have a hard time understanding Slaughter's stance regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Asked what the US can do to create peace there, she says, "We cannot create peace for anybody. It has to come from within." That maxim would seem quaint, were it not for our country's role in fostering the conditions that underlie the conflict both actively and by default.
Slaughter's solid on a host of other contentious issues. She's pro-choice, in support of gay marriage, against privatizing Social Security (as is Wojtaszek), and critical of US involvement in Colombia (Wojtaszek is, too).
But asked if she supports a US invasion of Iraq, she says, "It's hard to put a yes or no on that." She voted against granting Bush the authority to invade the nation, calling it "a great abdication of congressional responsibility."
"I believe Saddam Hussein is a thoroughly bad man," she continues. "But if we're really after where the terrorists came from, they came from Saudi Arabia. And if we're looking for weapons of mass destruction, then we need to look to [the] 17 countries that we know have nuclear capability.
"If that's going to be our policy, then we really need to articulate the fact that we're going to take [such weapons] away from them. There's just nothing but confusion."