Voter Engagement Task Force hosts candidates forum, raises awareness about local politics

With the election season looming closer, the Geneseo Voter Engagement Task Force has been working to educate students across disciplines about the candidate selection this November. The Task Force cosponsored the 2016 Candidates Forum in the MacVittie College Union Ballroom on Thursday Oct. 13 alongside Geneseo Opportunities for Leadership Development, the Center for Community and the Livingston County News. The event addressed a combination of national, regional and local politics in three segments of remarks, made by candidates for the New York State Supreme Court seventh Judicial District Charles Schiano, Jr. and Tonia Ettinger; candidates for New York State legislative offices Diana Kastenbaum for the 27th Congressional District; Thomas Casey for the 59th New York State Senate District; Barbara Baer and Joe Errigo for the 133rd New York State Assembly District and candidates for the Livingston County District Attorney Greg McCaffrey and Raymond Sciarrino.

“This campus is now predominately registered here in Livingston County … If you’re registered in Livingston County, you are allowed to vote for local candidates,” Task Force leader senior Katelyn Tzavelis said. “It’s really important to be engaged in any election. This, coincidently, is a presidential election year, but local elections and smaller elections are equally as important—sometimes even more important because the issues are closer to home.”

Moderated by Associate Provost for Personnel and Diversity Kenneth Kallio, the first segment—featuring candidates for the New York State Supreme Court—allowed Schiano and Ettinger time to give brief introductions and explanations of their platforms, while the following two segments provided an additional question and answer session.

Members of the student body, faculty, administration and local community had the opportunity to submit questions prior to each segment. Questions focused mainly on policy, and many referred to issues relevant within Livingston County and on the Geneseo campus.

Kallio asked the candidates for regional legislative offices about their positions on the minimum wage. Democrats Kastenbaum, Casey and Baer spoke in mutual agreement with New York State’s General Minimum Wage Rate Schedule to annually raise the minimum wage until it meets a $15 minimum. Errigo—a Republican—disagreed.

“I must be under some illusion, because I always thought that minimum wage was not meant to be a full time job,” he said. “It’s going to cost Farmers $500 million more in labor costs. They’re not going to do it … They estimate that at least 200,000 jobs will be gone if that happens.”

Other questions encompassed topics including labor rights and the presidential election.

The third and final segment assessed the differing stances between District Attorney candidates incumbent McCaffrey and Sciarrino. A Q&A was also conducted, raising questions about local prosecution policy.

Kallio inquired about how the District Attorney candidates would prosecute the Social Host Law.

McCaffrey and Sciarrino elaborated on their views, although the latter said, “The Social Host Law … I believe there’s many, many statutes on the books under the Alcohol Beverage Control Act that already would allow people to be prosecuted for those types of crimes. I don’t believe it’s something that needed to be defined separately because there are already laws on the books.”

McCaffrey refuted this argument, saying, “Prior to the Social Host Law, kids were being charged with providing alcohol to a minor as a Class A misdemeanor punishable by jail. Under the Social Host Law, you can do jail time—but it won’t happen. It is punishable by a fine.”

The questions evoked a positive response from biology major senior Luke Slate, who attended the forum.

“I’m glad I came. It was very informative,” he said. “I hadn’t really known anything about the candidates previously. I thought the questions were good and relevant to us as college students.”

“It’s a wonderful thing that so many students have registered [to vote] this year,” attendee Livingston County Democratic Chair Judith A. Hunter said. “Of course, all the oxygen is getting sucked up by the presidential race, but we’ve got an entire ballot. In terms of what affects students locally on campus, it’s the local candidates … I hope students will read about this event if they weren’t here tonight, find out a little more about these candidates and get comfortable voting the whole ballot, because it’s crucial.”