Tom Reed, the US Representative for New York’s 23rd Congressional District which encompasses Ithaca, has won by comfortable margins in multiple elections in a row. He has defeated his Democratic opponents by margins of more than 15 percent, both in 2014 and in 2016. Both of those years, his opposition has been limited; neither Martha Robertson nor John Plumb—his opponents in 2014 and 2016, respectively—faced a single opponent in their primaries. However, the 2018 election has already shown itself to be different, with many contenders from a diverse set of backgrounds having already entered the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination.
The first of the contenders to have entered the race for the nomination was Rick Gallant, a teacher and union activist from the Corning-Painted Post Area School District. As expected, he quickly gained support from various teachers’ groups in the district. However, despite having taught in New York for seventeen years, for most of that time he was living in Pennsylvania just south of the border with New York. Not until May of this year did he move to Painted Post, NY, a necessity for him to be eligible to actually run for office in New York. As a teacher, Gallant has made education a focus of his campaign, aiming to increase budgets for education while also opposing Betsy DeVos and her efforts to support charter schools.
Also with a background in teaching is Eddie Sundquist, a lawyer originally from Jamestown who was a middle school teacher in Pennsylvania before returning to New York to pursue a law degree. Sundquist, still in his twenties, is the youngest candidate in the race. He holds progressive views on a variety of issues, with strong support for single-payer healthcare, public schools, and action against climate change. He has already said that his main priority is the economic revitalization of areas like his hometown of Jamestown.
The only Ithaca native to have joined the race so far is Ian Golden, owner of the Finger Lakes Running Company. Promising a “Golden Age of Politics”, Golden has made the focal point of his campaign his support for single payer healthcare and campaign finance reform. Golden hopes to use his experience as a small business owner to his advantage, and says he will implement policy in a manner favorable to small businesses in New York.
Another candidate, Max Della Pia, claims to have been inspired to run after attending a town hall of Tom Reed’s, and has detailed that listening to his constituents is something that would be especially important to him. Della Pia, a former air force officer, has a background in law and economics. The most recent person to have joined the race, Della Pia is a self-described moderate on many issues. He has prioritized free trade, which he believes will be best for American industries. He also said he recognizes the Second Amendment as a constitutional right which should not be infringed upon. However, most of his policies are still characterized by a staunch opposition to the Trump administration.
The fifth person in the race is J.G. Hertzler, a former actor best known for playing the Klingon Martok on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Hertzler, now a member of the Ulysses Town Council, will be running his campaign partially in the persona of Mark Twain. That means that at some events, he will be dressed up as and acting in the persona of Mark Twain, a role he took when he announced his run. Hertzler has made the environment one of his highest priorities, and even has on his record an arrest from a protest of a development on Seneca Lake.
The diversity in candidates who have entered the race so far in advance seems to demonstrate a greater level of activity among Democrats in New York’s 23rd Congressional District leading up to the 2018 midterms. Democrats certainly hope that through having an active primary campaign, they can select the best possible candidate to represent their party in the general election, and present a much more challenging election for Tom Reed than he’s seen in awhile. It remains unclear who will win the nomination, and between now and the primary in summer 2018, anything could happen.