Campaign 2018’s “Drums Along the Mohawk”—GOP Congresswoman Claudia Tenney v. Democrat Anthony Brindisi March 22, 2018
“Drums Along the Mohawk.” This 1939 Hollywood motion picture was based upon a 1936 novel by author Walter Edmonds. Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert played settlers on NY’s frontier during the American Revolution who are attacked by the British, their Tory sympathizers, and Indians until peace is restored. It was nominated for two Academy Awards and became a major box office success, grossing over $1 million in its first year (52 FEATURE FILMS On FOX ’39-40 LIST). Seventy-nine years later, in midterm Campaign 2018, “political” drums will be heard along this same Mohawk. In one of the most closely watched contests, GOP Congresswoman Claudia Tenney will be fighting for re-election against Democrat Anthony Brindisi. Let’s discuss this race.
First-term Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (57) currently represents NY’s 22nd Congressional District (CD). The present NY 22nd is located in the central part of the Empire State. The 22nd stretches from the PA border to the shores of Lake Ontario and takes in parts of eight NY counties. It includes upstate NY’s Mohawk River Valley, one of America’s first frontiers. After the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, the Mohawk Valley became one of the nation’s earliest industrial centers. Utica and Rome, where canal builders had to dig through the route’s highest ground, became large factory towns. Originally settled by New England Yankees, Utica and Rome attracted waves of immigrants from Italy and Poland in the early 20th Century. Mouseketeer and beach party star, the late Annette Funicello, was born in Utica (Barone 14 Political Almanac, “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes,” Funicello & Romanowski, 1994). Oneida County’s Utica and Rome and Broome County’s Binghamton are the biggest towns in this sparsely populated district. Utica and Rome, now aging industrial cities, have been bypassed by more recent economic growth and Oneida County has lost population from 2000-2011. Binghamton University, a regional major public college, is a major employer. The area’s largest employer is the Oneida Nation’s Turning Stone Resort Casino. Utica, however, remains a haven for immigrants, partially offsetting the 22nd CD’s population loss. Nearly 1/6 of Utica’s residents are foreign born, coming from Africa and Southeast Asia. Utica also has a large Bosnian community (CQ 14 & Barone !4 Political Almanacs).
The 4/07/2017 Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) gives the 22nd an R+6 score. This district has been in the “Red” column since the founding of the Republican Party in the 1850’s, and the GOP has a voter registration advantage in every county except Broome. However, the GOP advantage is broad, but often, not very deep. In 2008, McCain beat Obama by just 149 votes, and Romney bested Obama by 1,328 votes in 2012 (Baron 14). In 2016, this district joined much of the Rust Belt in voting for Trump by a 15.5% margin(fivethirtyeight.com). Although the 22nd leans GOP, in 2008, it elected a Democratic Congressman, Michael Acuri. The two most recent GOP Congressman in the 22nd , Rep. Sherwood Boehlert and Richard Hanna, the fellow who defeated Acuri in 2010, were fairly moderate, not Republicans in the hard right Southern/Rocky Mountain mold (See Barone & CQ14).
New Hartford, NY native Claudia Tenney is the daughter of a former New York judge. She received her undergraduate degree from Colgate University and her law degree from the University of Cincinnati. Tenney practiced law on her own and as a partner in a Utica firm. From 2003-2009, she served as chief of staff and legal counsel to former Assemblyman David Townsend. Tenney was a co-owner of the Mid-York Press, a commercial printing company started in 1946 by her mother’s family. Tenney established the Tenney Media Group in Clinton, NY and served as publisher and legal counsel. Tenney also has broadcasting experience. In 1/2001, she began co-hosting “Common Sense,” a radio and television program that aired weekly across Oneida and most of nearby Herkimer County. In 2/2010, Tenney began co-hosting “First Look” on WBIX 950 Radio (“Biography,” nyassembly.gov/mem/Claudia-Tenney).
When Assemblyman Townsend ran for Oneida County Sheriff in 2010, Tenney ran for his Assembly seat. She won the GOP primary and ran unopposed in the general election (uticaod.comfeatures, “Observer Dispatch,” Ackerman, 1/01/11). Tenney represented the 101st NY Assembly District from 2011-2017. In 2012, the NY Conservative Party gave Tenney an award for being the most conservative legislator in the state (Weiner, 5/06/14, Syracuse.com). In 2011, Tenney voted against the Marriage Equality Act (assembly.state.ny.us/leg).
In 2014, Tenney ran against then 22nd CD GOP Rep. Hanna in the GOP primary. A Tea Party favorite, Tenney challenged Hanna for “abandoning conservative principles” during his two terms in Congress. She called him a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Hanna had voted against cuts to Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio. He supported same-sex marriage. He co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Hanna opposed a ban on elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Hanna defeated Tenney in the primary by a 6% margin and ran unopposed in the 11/2014 general election (oneidadispatch.co, 6/24/14). In 11/2015, Tenney stated she was again running for the 22nd CD seat. Cong. Hanna announced his retirement a few weeks later. Tenney was endorsed by NY’s Conservative Party, the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, the Citizens United Fund, and the New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms PAC (Weiner, syracuse.com, 12/20/15, nystateofpolitics.com, 3/2016). Cong. Hanna did not endorse Tenney. She won the primary. In the 11/2016, general election, she won with 44% of the vote. Her Democratic opponent had 39% of the vote, while a third-party candidate took 13% (TWC NEWS, Weiner, 6/28/16, syracuse.com, Roby, 11/09/16, pressconnects.com).
In the House, Cong. Tenney, unlike her GOP predecessors, is one hard right GOP Tea Partier, up there with the Southern-fried/Rocky Mountain gang. She has embraced Donald’s confrontational style (thehill.com, 3/13/18). She has voted in line with Demagogue Donald 97.1% of the time (projectsfivethirtyeight.com). She is a member of the Republican Study Committee, (RSC). The RSC is the most conservative bloc and dominant force within the House Republican caucus (CQ 14, rsc-walker.house.gov, “Member List”). On 5/04/2017, Tenney voted for the repeal Obamacare bill that passed the House, but died in the Senate (c-span.org/congress/votes). On 12/17/ 2017, she voted for the tax cut bill for the top 1% that Donald pushed and signed (See Timm, NBCNews.com, 12/22/17). In 2/2018, Trump rubber-stamp Tenney stated that congressional representatives who did not applaud Donald’s State of the Union address acted in a way that was “un-American (“The Hill,” Thomsen, 2/06/18).” Cong. Tenney has other “unique,” views. When asked on a radio show whether the two ex-wives of fired Trump White House staffer Rob Porter should be believed about the spousal abuse they had suffered, Tenney stated, “It’s so easy to line people up (CNN, Nobles, 2/22/18).”
Tenney made state and national headlines after the 2/14/2018 Parkland, FL Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 dead. In a radio interview shortly after this massacre, Tenney stated, without citing evidence, “It’s interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats (NY Times, Goldmacher, 2/21/18, Utica Observer-Dispatch, Madison, 2/21/18).” In a 3/05/2018 TV interview, Tenney announced her plans to run for a second term. She was then asked about her previous controversial statement. She replied, “It isn’t just Republicans who commit all these terrible crimes…All I’m saying is everybody is guilty equally.” She then shouted, “fake news!” and ended this interview (Parsnow, cnycentral.com/news). CNN asked Tenney’s office what statistics she had used to claim that most mass shooters are Democrats. She irrationally responded, “I’m fed up with the media and liberals attempting to politicize tragedies and demonize law-abiding gun owners and conservative Americans every time there is a horrible tragedy (CNN, Nobles 2/22/18).”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has the NY 22nd on its list of 2018 seats that it hopes to flip to reclaim a net 24 seats and take back the House. DCCC spokesman Even Lukaske pounced on Tenney’s “Democrats are the majority of mass shooters” statement. He aptly called her comments “unhinged, shameful, and disgusting.” He stated that Cong. Tenney has “once again demonstrated how completely unfit she is to serve in Congress (CNN, Nobles, 2/22/18).” Wacko Tenney, frankly, never stops making outrageous comments. She told a local radio show that somebody in the “Deep State,” what Trump and Company call liberals or intelligence community members, ordered the $31,000 dining room set that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson had purchased with taxpayer money (shareblue.com,Chapman, 3/21/18)!
In 2/2018, the Cook Political Report moved the NY 22nd from “leaning Republican” to “toss-up (Rome Sentinel, 2/10/18).” Tenney’s Democratic opponent, Anthony Brindisi is a stellar candidate for the NY 22nd . At age four, Utica native Brindisi (39) lost his mother to cancer. His three older sisters helped raise him and he is also close to his two brothers. While going to Notre Dame High School, Brindisi worked at McDonalds. He attended community college and graduated from Sienna College and Albany Law School (brindisiforcongress.com, Facebook). He was a partner in a law firm. Education has always been a high priority for Brindisi. He was elected to the Utica School Board and helped modernize the city’s school buildings. He was elected to the NY State Assembly in a 2011 special election and was re-elected in 2012, 2014, and 2016 where he currently serves. He earned a reputation for bipartisanship. He helped seniors, veterans, children, and teachers. He is running for Congress to push for jobs and more education funding. He is for preserving and improving health care, not ripping it apart. He has criticized Cong. Tenney for celebrating her kill Obmacare vote and for her 1% tax cut vote. He is pro-choice and has attacked Tenney for her defund Planned Parenthood vote (brindisiforcongess.com). After hearing Tenney’s meltdown when she claimed the media and liberals were “politicizing” mass shootings, he tweeted that she was in a “very dark place and hoped she can find the light.” He called her initial “Democrats are mass shooters” comments “grotesque (CNN, Nobles, 2/22/18).” Yes, Brinidisi comes from a rural gun hunting neighborhood and has not supported gun control. However, he would probably support raising the age for buying semi-automatics. He is also for banning bump stocks and a 10-day waiting period before a firearm can be purchased. Tenney, however, is an NRA fanatic who wants to eliminate many restrictions on buying and possessing guns (See ucpublicaffairs.com, Perry, sycracuse.com, Weiner, 10/03/17).
In the last quarter of 2017, Brindisi outraised Tenney by $100,000, but bet on the GOP and their friends, including the Kochs, to shower her with millions. In the 2017-2018 election cycle, Koch has already given Tenney $7,500 (opensecrets.com). Democrats must keep Brindisi financially competitive. This campaign will be nasty and negative and just laughing at Tenney’s insane comments won’t defeat her. After Brindisi said he would run against her, Cong. Tenney noted that Brinidisi’s father had represented organized crime figures four decades earlier. Political Science Professor Gerald Benjamin, from SUNY’s New Paltz, called such attacks a common tactic used to generate anti-Italian prejudice (USA Today, Gaudiano, 7/14/17). On 11/06/2018, Democrats and moderates in the NY 22nd must come out in droves to vote for Brindisi. Cong. Tenney is totally unfit to represent this district and must be “drummed” out of the Mohawk Valley.