Candidates covering a lot of ground in sprawling 19th Congressional District

Photo via facebook @JoshRileyNY
Josh Riley campaigning in Trumansburg, N.Y. on September 30, 2022.

With New York now a battleground state in this year’s midterm elections, New York’s large and diverse 19th Congressional District features a tight and tumultuous race between attorney and former congressional staffer Josh Riley and Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro. 

The redrawn district contains 776,971 people in its borders and incorporates parts of Broome, Chenango, Columbia, Cortland, Delaware, Green, Otsego, Sullivan, Tioga, Tompkins and Ulster counties in upstate New York. Of its registered and active voters, 175,714 are Democrats, 157,170 are Republicans and 118,418 are independents. The district, under its previous borders, went to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election. 

The total voting-age population is 635,246.

Riley has been focused on reducing the cost of living for working families, public safety, increasing access to healthcare, increasing opportunities for children and marginalized communities, protecting abortion rights, protecting the environment and strengthening the economy.    

Molinaro has highlighted the issues of the cost of living for families, the energy crisis, mental health and disability services, the opioid epidemic, support for veterans and seniors, U.S. relations with Israel and cryptocurrency.

In many races this year, Democratic candidates have come under fire for a perceived weak response to crime. In last Tuesday’s debate for example, Rep. Lee Zeldin promised to declare a state of emergency in New York if elected. 

Cover photo, and above photo via facebook @MarcMolinaroNY
Marc Molinaro campaigns in Saugerties, N.Y. on October 24, 2022.

Molinaro’s campaign has adopted this tactic as well. A new ad released this Thursday painted Josh Riley as lax on crime. Its narrator said, “Josh Riley said he was honored to be on the front lines with groups who support defunding the police and broken bail laws allowing violent criminals back on the street within hours of being arrested.”

Cashless bail, a controversial policy that was tweaked in a last-minute addition to the state’s budget this March, allows people arrested on non-violent charges and misdemeanors to be released with no restrictions or under electronic monitoring while their case plays out. 

This new policy has been pointed to by some Republican candidates this midterm as a prime example of how Democrats are allowing crime to surge. However, while crime index data isn’t yet available for 2022, between 2017 and 2021 crime in Broome County, the district’s most populous, has gone down 16.78 percent.

Riley, recently endorsed by Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa, said, “They’re trying to pin me as anti law enforcement when the reality is I have a long and proven track record of actually supporting law enforcement. I served as counsel on the United State’s Senate Judiciary Committee where I worked on legislation to provide more funding for law enforcement.”

Riley links concerns about crime to law enforcement members who haven’t been trained to deal with mental health concerns and rising rates of drug abuse. “It’s really bad for taxpayers because we’re essentially using our jails to warehouse people with mental health and addiction issues who really just need some help,” he said. 

According to the New York State Department of Health, Broome County, had a 35.8 percent rate of people visiting the emergency room for opioid overdoses between January and March. This was significantly larger compared to 10.8 percent for the rest of the state, excluding New York City. The Broome County Sheriff’s 2021 report also listed 403 drug related crimes below the felony level.

Conversely, Democrats have been able to attack Republican platforms on reproductive rights in races this year. Riley said, “We don’t have to guess as to where he stands on this because he has been against codifying Roe, he has a record on that.”

To be clear, in an August debate for the special election in NY-18, Molinaro said he would not support a nationwide ban on abortion. According to WSKG, at an Endicott Town Hall event the same month, he also said, “at some point there ought to be some limitation, except in the case of life of the mother, rape and incest.” Molinaro personally describes himself as pro-life while Riley is pro-choice.

This race is also of note for the fact that both candidates have spent much of their careers outside the district. Molinaro, being the Dutchess County Executive since 2012, has been separated from his possible future constituents by the Hudson River for a decade. Riley, prior to his campaign, spent ten years practicing law in Washington D.C and Miami. 

The latest poll on this race, out of Siena College Oct. 6, has Riley leading 46 percent to 41 percent. The poll, which surveyed 470 people in the district and has a margin of error of five percentage points, also showed him beating Molinaro by six points with Independents. 

Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 8 and early voting ends Nov. 6.

Photo by Austin Jefferson
Congressional candidate Josh Riley speaks with The Legislative Gazette.