New York's 29th Congressional District Denied Representation

Cheryl Fowler is a resident of Victor, NY and lives in New York's 29th Congressional District. She is a manager in the local health care industry and is knowledgeable about the devastating effects that the recently passed health care legislation will have on her employer, her customers, and her employees. 

"It was a real slap in the face," she recalls. "That legislation is going to make our jobs a lot harder, especially where it involves Medicare." 

While many will feel the very real pain of the recent health care legislation, Cheryl finds herself and the other nearly 700,000 residents of NY-29 in a political nuance that renders them helpless in the face of transformative, sweeping legislation flowing out of Washington like muck from a pigsty. With the resignation of disgraced Congressman Eric Massa prior to the congressional health care vote, the residents of NY-29 have been left with no voice in Washington to speak on their behalf. 

What is more tragic is that their unelected Democrat governor, David Paterson, is waging a legal battle to deny these residents their constitutional right to representation in the U.S. Congress. While other vacant congressional seats in states like Hawaii and Pennsylvania have since been filled by special elections, Governor Paterson intends to dither on NY-29's special election until the November elections.  

Paterson had little hesitation in calling speedy elections to replace vacancies for the 20th and 23rd districts, but then, Democrats had something to gain in those elections. Now Paterson has cited the state's fiscal troubles as the excuse for his planned delay in holding a special election. It proves a poor explanation for why the governor is so ardently spending state money to fight a legal battle against a lawsuit brought by local Republican and Democrat residents who are hoping to force a speedy special election and reclaim their voice in Washington. 

So the question that NY-29 residents such as Mrs. Fowler are asking themselves is: Why is their governor trying to suppress their voices from being heard in Washington? I took the opportunity to discuss the pending lawsuit with the presumed Republican front-runner in the NY-29 congressional race and former Corning Mayor Tom Reed.

Tom Reed announced his intention to run for NY-29's congressional seat nearly a year ago.  Since then he has put over 50,000 miles on his car as he traverses NY's southern tier to speak with local constituents. Although his campaign is in no way involved with the pending lawsuit, Tom has kept in constant contact with parties involved. He was an early supporter of a speedy special election and had little reservation about challenging Gov. Paterson's decision on behalf of his congressional district. It's no small task, given the fact that NY is one of the most liberal states in the nation.

"We've made a few comments back and forth," Tom chuckled as he brushed off several months of petitioning the governor to "put politics aside." "But the important thing is that holding a timely special election is the right thing to do. Even the governor has said it's the right thing to do."

Would Paterson hold up a special election for NY-29 for political reasons? With son-of-stimulus, amnesty, and cap-and-tax all scheduled for a vote before the end of summer, Paterson's intentions don't pass the sniff test. 

When asked about the national significance of NY-29's special election, Tom explained that "when there are congressional vacancies, there is the opportunity to manipulate the math. They impact the vote count. Take the health care vote -- a congressional majority is 218, but with the vacancies, they only needed 216, and we have a very good chance of opposing the Obama agenda."

Good chance, indeed. Smart Politics at the University of Minnesota reports that the Charlie Cook's Partisan Voting Index gives the 29th district a rating of +5 for Republicans, and the district swung for McCain by two percentage points in the last election. Even the local press has caught onto Paterson's motive for withholding NY-29's special election. Jimmy Veilkind of the Times Union writes that Democrats could use a double election in November to force Tom Reed to have to campaign against two Democrat challengers at the same time: 
Political analysts have said that holding a general in November might favor Democrats, given the cloud surrounding the departure of Rep. Eric Massa and a Republican enrollment advantage.

So here's a scenario: Zeller beats Reed in the "special" election and serves two months in Congress. But some other Democrat - say Hornell Mayor Shawn Hogan, to pick a name from a hat -- beats Zeller in a primary, and then beats Reed in the general. He would serve in Congress after Zeller, for two years. Or Reed could beat Zeller but not Hogan. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

It should be noted that Matt Zeller, the front-running Democratic challenger, did not respond to requests for comment.

Much of the politics are lost on local residents like Cheryl Fowler. "I don't understand why we just can't hold an election. I'm appalled at what I see coming out of Washington, and I feel like we are helpless out here. We should be the people deciding if we want an election, and not an unelected state official."

Tom Reed couldn't agree more. "It's a constitutional right to have congressional representation, and while the governor is playing political games, the 29th has no voice. It's this type of political decision-making that reminds me why I'm running for Congress."

For now, NY-29 residents wait patiently for a verdict to be handed down by the local district federal court that plans to release its ruling this week -- an unnecessary imperative for the residents who want nothing more than to have their voices heard in Washington and a plight that is only too recognizable in the national polls. The only difference is that for the residents of NY-29, an unelected official is intentionally repressing the voices of constituents for political reasons.

Sam Foster is a contributor for the blog Left Coast Rebel and lead writer for the Upstate Political Report. He can be emailed at You can donate to Tom Reed's campaign at his website.
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