Opinion

Opinion

Editorial of The Times

Posted June 17, 2018 8:42 p.m. EDT

Gareth Rhodes in the 19th District

New York’s 19th Congressional District stretches from the wealthy enclaves of Rhinebeck and the tie-dye world of Woodstock across the Catskill Mountains to the struggling dairy farmers near Cooperstown. In this enormous district, seven Democrats are competing in the primary June 26 to challenge Rep. John Faso, a first-termer who is considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the House.

This impressive field has divided party loyalists and independents alike, and the energy of the campaign has been matched by the energy of residents. The eager involvement of mostly homemade, neighborhood political clubs, and lively attendance at campaign events, is a welcome change in the political scene. These enthusiasts are anxious to take each candidate’s measure in person. One contender estimated that there have been at least 50 candidate forums.

Here are the choices:

Jeff Beals, an intense former diplomat and CIA officer, moved to the district to become a teacher at a private school in Woodstock. Beals has promised to “fight corporate power” and calls Sen. Bernie Sanders an inspiration.

David Clegg, a lawyer and ordained Methodist deacon, has lived in the district for 37 years and is well known for his public service as a basketball coach, a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and in fights against corporate polluters.

Erin Collier, a latecomer to the field and its only woman, says her family has lived in the district so long that there is a hamlet named Colliersville. An agricultural economist for the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Obama administration, Collier has won support from women’s groups, including Emily’s List.

Antonio Delgado, a Colgate graduate, Rhodes scholar and Harvard-educated lawyer, worked until recently for Akin Gump, one of the most powerful lobbying law firms in the country, until quitting to run for this seat. Much of his comfortable campaign balance comes from his well-to-do former colleagues, though Delgado has won support from many progressives in the area. The Democrats who lost in the past two races in this district were relative newcomers, though, and while Delgado makes a compelling case for his candidacy, he grew up in a working-class home just outside the district in Schenectady and moved to Rhinebeck from Montclair, New Jersey, only just over a year ago. Local roots should count this year, especially since voters have been so involved.

Brian Flynn, a dynamic businessman, has strong ideas about improving health care and the economy. He has created good jobs in the Northeast, but his connection to a firm that shifted positions from New York to the Dominican Republic has dogged him throughout the campaign.

Pat Ryan, a West Point graduate who served two tours in Iraq, has made gun safety a key issue. One ad shows him holding an AR-15 and arguing that it is essentially a weapon he used in war — and should be banned at home. Ryan is a moderate who argues that Medicare should be a medical insurance option for those under the age of 55. A question hangs over his campaign, however — whether his work at technology firms included plans to spy on left-wing groups and unions for businesses and law enforcement. Ryan has said as a midlevel employee he had criticized the proposals, which he said were dropped.

Gareth Rhodes, the seventh candidate and The Times’ pick in this race. Rhodes is a charismatic former press aide for Gov. Andrew Cuomo who grew up on a farm in the district. Motoring around the district in a small Winnebago, he has visited all 163 towns. He has listened closely to the woes of dairy farmers in dire straits, to families who have had to travel hundreds of miles to the closest maternity ward, to students struggling to pay off student loans.

Like several of his competitors, Rhodes backs Medicare for all, a health care reform meant to bring Americans closer to the kind of universal system enjoyed in all other industrialized nations. Details matter, and there are several Democratic-backed proposals on the table, but Rhodes sees the conversation as a way to jump-start negotiations on health care fixes.

How to improve gun safety is another key issue in this race, and it’s one way that Rhodes, the youngest candidate at 29, is trying to rally younger residents who barely voted in 2016. Born and raised in rural Ulster County, he left Harvard Law School last year to run for office.

Among those in this worthy field, Rhodes stands out as the best candidate to take on — and beat — Faso in November. He offers the combination of intelligence, enthusiasm and empathy that is desperately needed in Washington today.

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