Four of five people who are seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose U.S. Rep. Tom Reed in the November election met with voters May 20 in Benton.

Yates County residents got their chance to meet with four of the five candidates running to be the NY-23rd Congressional District’s Democratic Nominee for Congress.

The forum, sponsored by the Yates County Democratic Committee, was held at the Benton Fire Hall Sunday, May 20. With Eddie Sund-quist (Chautauqua County) unable to attend due to a family bereavement, Linda Andrei (Tompkins County), Max Della Pia (Tioga County), Ian Golden (Tompkins County), Tracy Mitrano (Yates County) were all given a bit more latitude in speaking times.

Structured questions were posed by the committee, focused on issues they feel are important to Yates County residents; healthcare, environment, national security, the economy, gun violence, agriculture, and the opioid crisis.

What was more noticable than their differences was how close the candidates are in their platforms. Speaking to an audience dominated by grey heads, healthcare was one of the most strongly stated positions across the table. Agreeing the current system is neither functional nor fair, especially in rural areas heavily dependent on Medicaid and Medicare, all the candidates declared it a priority in their campaign as a human right rather than a privilege, with a universal, comprehensive single payer system as the favorite option. Max Della Pia was the candidate to specifically point out Rep. Tom Reed’s family business in collecting medical debts and Reed’s voting record against healthcare.

With recent headlines of school shootings fresh in everyones’ minds, gun violence was another prominent topic. Della Pia again pointed to Reed’s support for national pistol permit reciprocity across state lines in a bill that would also open law enforcement officers to civil suits for even detaining gun owners for questioning. Della Pia favors national background checks and mandatory gun training for owners.

Local candidate Tracy Mitrano agreed, adding that school resource officers and security upgrades should be federally funded. Mitrano also believes that like tobacco corporations a few decades ago, gun manufacturers should no longer be protected from civil suits, letting the people decide if they should be held accountable for the weapons they produce and profit from.

That was another position Mitrano offered in the opioid crisis. Pharmaceutical corporations “hoodwinked” the public and physicians into believing that manufactured and legal prescription pain medications were not addictive, beginning in the 1990s, says Mitrano, and like big tobacco with cancer, they should be held financially accountable for the national crisis of drug addiction they helped to create.

Ian Golden agreed, and praised the omnibus bill getting federal funds for addiction treatment services, despite opposition from Reed and Donald Trump. Della Pia also believes “Big Pharma” should be held accountable, and that addiction needs to be treated as a disease rather than a crime. He and Linda Andrei both believe that root factors such as poverty must also figure into policy. Coming back to healthcare, Andrei added that mental health treatment for depression and harm reduction clinics offering suboxone for addicts must also be part of the plan.

The candidates addressed issues of immigration and guest workers for agriculture, renewable energy and environmental protection, national security and international trade, education and infrastructure, as well as what their choices would be for which committees to join if elected. These all helped to indicate their individual priorities as well as their speaking skills.

In their closings, Andrei argued again for healthcare as the key issue; Della Pia declared this midterm election “the highest stakes election in my memory,” and the need to insure that the primary winner defeats Reed; Golden spoke of meeting our former Congressman, Republican Amo Houghton, and his own desire to emulate Houghton’s “respectful, honorable, and wise” nature across the aisle.

Mitrano’s summing up was even less partisan. She expressed her confidence that all the audience would be voting. She believes the real task is “to reach out to our neighbors who don’t vote. It’s not about Republican or Democrat. It’s about working and middle class people getting what they need.”