Saturday, October 07, 2006

Editorial in Today's Post Star

In my view, Sweeney's change of heart on the debate shows that Sweeney supports debate only if he is sure he's going to win the election. He's scared to debate because he can't defend his record and he knows that Gillibrand's ideas resonate with voters. Sweeney debated Doris Kelley in 2004, the woman who had just $25,000 and was far behind in the polls. So why won't he debate now? Wouldn't a real "Congressman Kickass" be looking forward to at least three debates once again? Here's what the Post Star says today:

One issue shouldn't kill debate

Our view: Sweeney can use forum to confront Gillibrand on tax issue.

What next, his dog ate his homework? First, Congressman John Sweeney said he wouldn't debate his Democratic opponent, Kirsten Gillibrand, because he wanted to wait until the Democratic primary to determine who the party's representative would be. But the other candidate dropped out, giving Gillibrand the ballot line. Debate on, right? Not so fast. The congressman then said he wouldn't debate until after Labor Day. Well, it's after Labor Day. Debate on, right? Not so fast. The congressman's goodie bag of excuses isn't empty yet. On Thursday, he informed the citizens of the 20th Congressional District through a spokeswoman (as usual) that now he wouldn't debate until Ms. Gillibrand released her tax returns. What will he come up with next? Title 1 of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 has long required that House members and candidates submit a financial disclosure form, and the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct administers them. The reports contain all the necessary financial information the law requires for a fair and open election. Information that would be on a tax return is included in that report, but the whole return isn't required to be disclosed. And if the federal ethics watchdogs don't demand tax returns, why is the congressman making such a big deal out of it? He didn't raise it during any of his other campaigns. The congressman says it's necessary to make sure his opponent paid Social Security taxes on her child-care provider before there can be a serious debate on the issue of Social Security. Ms. Gillibrand says she paid the taxes. We're sure a lot of people want to know why Ms. Gillibrand won't release her tax returns. We're curious ourselves. In fact, we've asked her, and she won't say. At a public debate, the congressman or audience members could put her on the spot with a direct question about the tax returns and the Social Security issue, and the voters would be right there to hear her justification. Wouldn't that be a better solution for the voters -- and for Mr. Sweeney, come to think of it -- than having it appear as if he's found yet another excuse not to participate in debates? The problem with making one issue a condition for debating is, how far do you take it? If Mr. Sweeney could demand her tax returns as relevant to the election, why not her bank statements or credit card bills? Maybe she paid her New York City property tax bill with her Visa card. Or maybe her ATM receipts will show she paid her nanny in cash. When does it stop? This isn't the first time the congressman has looked for ways to weasel out of the debate process. In fact, he's been doing it right from the start. In 1998, when he first sought the office, he backed out of a League of Women Voters debate with his three Republican primary opponents, saying he feared he would be subject to "slanderous personal attacks, name-calling and mudslinging." And in the general election, he demanded that his Democratic opponent, Jean Bordewich, sign a "civility pledge" as a condition of debating. The pledge promised that candidates would be "100 percent positive," "100 percent on the issues," and refuse to participate in personal attacks" on their opponents by "character assassination or innuendo." Curious he's not demanding a civility pledge this year. Eventually, they reached an agreement and debated three times. And you know what? The debates were good. They were informative. They were combative at times, but in a good way. They showed the candidates' personalities and revealed their ability to discuss matters of importance. And the voters benefited from seeing the candidates together talking about the issues. Since then, the congressman has participated in several debates against his opponents, including debates hosted by this newspaper. What Mr. Sweeney is forgetting in employing his no-debate re-election strategy is the very people responsible for giving him his job and paying his $162,200 annual salary -- the voters. It's not too much to ask that every two years, these voters get to hear from the candidates who wish to represent them. The citizens certainly deserve to see their candidates in action, hear them defend and promote their positions, listen to the criticism of their opposition and watch how they each respond. By linking his participation in the debates to one issue, the congressman is depriving those voters of that opportunity. Our invitation is still open. Thursday, Oct. 26. at 7 p.m. in Heritage Hall in Glens Falls. Your opponent says she'll be there, Mr. Sweeney. Will you?

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