The four Democratic candidates for the 22nd Congressional district answered questions Saturday night about issues concerning the district. From right to left: Sam Roberts, Francis Conole, Sarah Klee Hood and Chol Majok.

In the final forum before tomorrow’s Congressional primaries, the four Democratic candidates for the 22nd District gathered for a forum at Tucker Missionary Baptist Church.

Francis Conole, Sarah Klee Hood, Sam Roberts and Chol Majok answered fifteen questions about issues facing the country and the district.

Rep. John Katko’s retirement and Rep. Claudia Tenney’s move to a new district left the district without an incumbent. The district includes all of Onondaga, Madison and Oneida counties and part of Oswego County. 

Republicans Brandon Williams and Steve Wells are also vying for the seat.

Election Day is Tuesday.

Campaign finance a hot-button issue

The most spirited part of the night came when Conole and Klee Hood debated campaign finance.

Klee Hood accused Conole of taking dark money from the Protect Our Future PAC, which has pushed more than $500,000 toward support for Conole. 

Sam Bankman-Fried, a billionaire who is also the CEO of a cryptocurrency exchange, finances the Protect Our Future PAC. He has said the PAC finances candidates who best plan to prevent the next pandemic. But cryptocurrency regulation has become a prime topic in Upstate New York.

Roberts at one point stepped between Klee Hood and Conole, jokingly pretending to separate them as they debated the topic.

Klee Hood and Conole, however, ultimately agree that the campaign finance system needs to be reformed. Conole pointed to his previous stances on campaign finance reform. Dark money political groups should disclose their donors, Conole said. Congress should pass a constitutional amendment that overturns the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, he said.

Roberts said that the way campaign financing operates limits the types of candidates who can run for office. Candidates who may not have access to significant capital or big money donors struggle to run for office. 

“We have to get big money out,” he said. 

Majok said he pledged at the beginning of his campaign to not take big money donations and that he hasn’t. He has so far raised the least money of the Democratic candidates.

He said he’d fight for democratic values and recalled a conversation with friends recently in which one asked: “If American democracy goes down, where do we go?”

How the candidates plan to fight inflation

With inflation continuing to hit Americans’ pockets, the candidates laid out how they’d best help consumers going forward. 

  • Roberts said the Inflation Reduction Act was a “step in the right direction” to combat inflation, but it still didn’t go far enough. The bill has been touted as helping reduce drug and energy prices for consumers. Roberts said he believes the CHIPS bill passed this summer would also help Americans economically. The Federal Trade Commission should be empowered to prevent price-gouging, particularly by oil and gas companies, Roberts said.
  • Conole said he believes politicians in Congress have moved too slow so far to combat inflation. He said the key drivers of inflation have been the cost of prescription drugs and gas prices. Conole advocated for extending middle class tax cuts. The federal government needs to examine the country’s supply chains to reduce costs, he said. Conole also targeted the consolidation of shipping companies as bumping inflation. 
  • Klee Hood said she believes anti-trust regulation is among the best ways to fight inflation. She said conglomerates have driven up prices across markets. She pushed back against Conole’s suggestion of waiving the gas tax. Klee Hood believes gas companies ultimately kept prices high and took a benefit meant for consumers. She said the country may need to ride out rising gas prices and let them “self resolve.” 
  • Majok advocated for employers to pay livable wages to employees as one way to fight inflation. The United States should move away from fossil fuels, he said. The country’s reliance on foreign oil has helped squeeze consumers, Majok said. He emphasized the cost of housing as a big contributor to rising costs. Majok said he wants to incentivize homeownership so people build equity, he said. Majok also decried the lack of housing, which he said drives prices up. 

3 most important issues in this year’s race

The candidates were asked to name their top three priorities as representatives should be they be elected to Congress.

  • Roberts said job creation; the preservation of human rights — chiefly reproductive rights and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community — in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s reversal; and access to and affordability of education are the three most important issues this year. 
  • Klee Hood said climate change; the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community; and healthcare. 
  • Majok said off housing, healthcare and improving the lives of rural Americans. 
  • Conole said economic opportunity, taking on rising costs, and protecting freedoms — like reproductive rights.

Read our Voter Guide

Chris Libonati

Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.