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October 28, 2010

Arcuri, Hanna square off in debate

ONEONTA _ U.S. Rep. Michael Arcuri, D-Utica, and his Republican challenger, Richard Hanna of Barneveld, addressed issues ranging from health care to hydraulic fracturing during a 90-minute debate Wednesday evening at Morris Hall on the SUNY Oneonta campus.

The men, who ran against each other two years ago, agreed on several points. They support people's rights to bear arms, and both disclosed they have pistol permits. They support a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. They spoke highly of the nation's military veterans and efforts to help veterans readjust to civilian life. They decried the loss of life and money in the war in Iraq, opposed replacing the income tax with a national sales tax, and stressed that Tea Party protests are an understandable reaction to a system that has marginalized the concerns of everyday Americans.

Yet, they still found much to disagree about and spent nearly one-third of their time on the night's first question: whether they should be ashamed over their "misleading, negative campaign ads," messages that warp each other's records, personal histories and beliefs.

Arcuri spoke first, saying: "Two years ago, I didn't run negative ads and I had a 22 point lead." Then Hanna launched a barrage of negative ads "and the lead dwindled to 4 points," he said. Arcuri said that while some people believe that negative ads are not persuasive, they are wrong. "The ads are effective," he said. "If you're getting hit, you've got to hit back," he said, although when thrown back and forth, negative ads "tend to zero each other out."

Hanna, who for years operated a construction business, said that in 2008 he was attacked and unfairly tied to then-President George W. Bush as well as the Iraqi War, which he did not support. This time, he has been accused unfairly of overcharging the government on contracts awarded to his firm, winning contracts though the influence of his uncle, former Utica Mayor Edward Hanna, as well as being sued for performing shoddy work _ charges that are absolutely untrue, he said.

Hanna, 59, said he has taken Arcuri to task for "appearances of impropriety," such as "while he was D.A. (of Oneida County), owning the (state) trooper barracks building" and a public garage.

Arcuri, 51, said he owned the buildings before he was in Congress and there was nothing illegal about it.

Hanna said voters who are "interested in someone who knows how the free enterprise system operates have a clear choice in this election." They can vote for him, rather than someone on the public payroll, he said.

Arcuri said that someone whose business thrived off government contracts has no right to criticize someone working for the government.

Asked if they would repeal the recent health insurance reform bill, Arcuri said he would work to make it better by having Medicare negotiate and drive down the cost of prescription drugs, He also said government needs to do more to help senior citizens stay in their homes rather than move prematurely into nursing homes.

Hanna said he would not lobby to repeal the reform bill, although "I ultimately think that is what will happen." He said the bill's provisions are too expensive to provide real improvement to the nation's health care system.

Both men said they oppose privatizing Social Security, and Hanna said he has been unfairly attacked as a proponent of privatization. Arcuri said that in an interview with the Utica Phoenix, Hanna had suggested that privatizing Social Security is an option. Noting that Social Security is paying out more than it is taking in, Hanna said he would agree to lift the cap on the Social Security tax, subjecting higher incomes to the tax. Arcuri said he believes Social Security could remain solvent without this measure, if the funds were not tapped for other uses.

The two disagreed about reforms to labor laws that would make it easier for employees to become unionized. Arcuri said he supports the American Free Choice Act "to level the playing field for workers who want to bargain collectively. Hanna said he opposed the bill, which would "allow for intimidation in the workplace."

The candidates said they believe that hydrofracking should be subject to federal environmental laws, and both said that exemptions granted about five years ago were misguided.

Arcuri said he sees no alternative to financing education through property tax as people want to retain local control of schools. Hanna said a system that pits property owners against the needs of schools is "fundamentally wrong," but added that he did not know of a better way to finance education

The two said they opposed the military's "don't ask, don't tell," policy on sexual orientation. Both support civil unions and Arcuri said he would support a law to legalize gay marriage.

Wednesday's debate was presented by the League of Women Voters of the Oneonta Area, and was moderated by Barbara Hein. Questions came from Sam Pollak, editor of The Daily Star, Gary Wickham, manager of SUNY Oneonta's radio station, and from the studio audience. More than 100 people attended the forum.

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