Conole, Williams decry money in politics as costly House campaign winds down

Central New York’s candidates for Congress today denounced the amount of money spent on political campaigns as their own expensive races neared a conclusion with Tuesday’s election.

Francis Conole, a Syracuse Democrat, and Brandon Williams, a Republican from Sennett in Cayuga County, said they were uncomfortable with the amount of money spent in the 22nd Congressional District race.

“I think it is an unfortunate part of our politics that we really need to come together – Democrats and Republicans – to work to change,” Conole said at a debate sponsored by WSTM-TV (Channel 3) in Syracuse.

Conole raised more than $2.6 million for his campaign, more than three times the amount raised by Williams ($749,000) through Oct. 19, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The gap between the candidates is narrower when including money spent independently of the candidates by outside political groups.

Conole said he took a pledge at the beginning of the campaign in which he refused to accept contributions from corporate political action committees. He said the money from corporate interests negatively affects democracy.

Williams was asked why a large portion of the money he raised came from donors in Texas.

The Dallas native said many of his biggest contributors were from his personal and family network in Texas.  He said he had no alternative as a first-time candidate and outsider to politics in Central New York.

“You probably know, unless you are part of the party machines, it’s sometimes hard to raise money from the traditional party donors,” Williams said.

The question about money in politics was one of about a dozen from moderators Matt Mulcahy and Michael Benny during the one-hour debate, the second of three that the candidates agreed to participate in before the election.

The debate had a cordial tone compared to last week’s fiery exchange between Conole and Williams in the course of a debate hosted by Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication.

The debate Wednesday was taped at Clay Central Park, a short drive from Micron Technology’s planned $100 billion development of a computer chip manufacturing complex off Route 31.

The candidates shared their views about Micron and its impact on the community and answered questions about their plans to address inflation and the mental health crisis with children.

When asked about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, both candidates condemned the violence.

“It was a very sad day for our country,” Conole said, recalling that he call his former boss at the Pentagon, a Republican, in the middle of the attack.

“We were both very emotional and concerned for our country,” Conole said. “It was a threat to our democracy because what you had was a president undermining the faith in our elections, which then in turn spurred violence and an attack on our Capitol.”

Williams has declined to say whether he believes Donald Trump incited the attack. But he condemned the acts of violence.

“Certainly, violence has no place in our political discourse or in our community,” Williams said. “We’ve seen a rash of that over time, including the violence in our Capitol on Jan. 6. There’s no place for that. I’ve never supported that or done anything other than condemn it.”

WSTM-TV will air the full debate at 7 p.m. tonight on Channel 3 in Syracuse and on CNYCentral social media platforms.

The final debate between the candidates will air at 7 p.m. Thursday on WSYR-TV (Channel 9) in Syracuse. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.


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