22nd Congressional District map, courtesy of the State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment

The two candidates for New York’s 22nd Congressional District – despite their fundamental differences – squared off more calmly in a recent debate, hosted by CNY Central, than they had prior.

Republican Brandon Williams and Democrat Francis Conole debated local and national issues from Micron’s pending chip plant in Clay to the impact of partisan identities on elections now and in 2024.

“The time for finger pointing is over,” Conole said.

Conole emphasized his commitment to bipartisanship during last week’s debate hosted by Syracuse University and Syracuse.com. In response, Williams likened bipartisanship to outdated “politics as usual” and differentiated himself as a political outsider. The two clashed on just about every issue, Syracuse.com reported.

This week’s debate was slightly different. 

Conole still highlighted bipartisanship and Williams maintained he is a political outsider. 

But both candidates shifted away from harsher, direct criticisms to focus more on local politics and their individual positions on issues. 

“I’m focused 100% on these midterms,” Williams said. “I’m here to represent the people of Central New York. The 2024 presidential election will take care of itself.”

Brandon Williams is the Republican running to represent New York’s 22nd Congressional District. Photo courtesy the Brandon Williams campaign.

Williams hopes a Republican will win the presidency in 2024, but he doesn’t want to re-adjudicate the 2020 presidential election results, he said.

Conole did not offer specific names on potential 2024 candidates either, instead pointing to a need for new political leaders.

“I want to see a new generation of leaders step up, run, be involved, be engaged with our community,” Conole said. “It really is time for new leadership.”

Williams, 55, served in the U.S. Navy. He said his experience as a strategic missile officer on a nuclear submarine gave him leadership skills especially in times of crisis.

He is an entrepreneur and self-described “Reagan-era” Republican who moved permanently to Sennett in Cayuga County in 2019. He lives just outside the district he is running to represent. (Candidates must live in the state they represent but are not required to live in their district.) This is his first time running for political office.

Conole, 44, is a captain in the Navy reserves and resides in Syracuse. He pledged to serve in the Navy just three months prior to the 9/11 attacks, a pivotal moment that he said began his career in leadership.

Conole said he considers himself a moderate Democrat. He first ran unsuccessfully for a Congressional seat in New York’s 24th district in 2020. The district was redrawn as the 22nd this year. 

New York’s 22nd Congressional District, which covers just under 777,000 people, now spans Onondaga, Madison and Oneida counties and a very small part of Oswego County. The district is currently represented by John Katko, a moderate Republican from Camillus, who chose not to seek re-election.

Conole has currently outspent Williams during the campaign in political disbursements by a 3:1 ratio.

Both candidates have been subjects of negative ads criticizing or distorting their positions. Conole said he was frustrated by “disingenuous” ads drawing connections between him and national or state politicians.

William is against abortion except in cases of incest, rape or to save the mother’s life. He said his views were distorted in commercials.

“To suggest that I don’t care about the life of the mother is insulting and absurd,” Williams said.

Both candidates agreed there is no place for violence in American politics. They denounced the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attacks. 

Conole and Williams disagreed on issues throughout the debate, including the ethics of corporate campaign donations. 

Conole opposes corporate donations to political campaigns, and signed a pact to not accept corporate donations in his campaign this year, he said.

“It is an unfortunate part of our politics that we really need to come together, Democrats and Republicans, to work to change,” he said. 

When Conole asked Williams why he hadn’t signed the no corporate pact too, Williams fired back and asked Conole to explain why he has accepted donations from a cryptocurrency billionaire, as first reported by The Citizen.

Conole said he will answer William’s question on the specific donation once Williams signs the no corporate donations pact.

Williams and Conole both expressed optimism at Micron’s future in Central New York.  

“If they’re successful, we’re going to be tremendously successful and blessed here in Central New York,” Williams said. 

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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Follow Marnie Muñoz at @munoz_marnie.

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