New York State’s 24th District is quickly turning into the site of one of this year’s most exciting congressional campaigns. It’s got a nationally-recognized figure as a candidate, a budding corruption scandal, swift boat style rumor mongering, and an impending surrender by the Republican incumbent, leaving the race wide open.
First, the Democratic frontrunner, Les Roberts: Roberts has a long history of work on the international scale, doing research into the effects of war on human populations that changed United Nations policy, and brought him into consultation with top governmental bodies such as the National Security Council and committees of the United States Congress. But, it was his work in 2004 in Iraq that gave Roberts national name recognition. Les Roberts risked his life to be smuggled into Iraq in order to carry out a cluster sample study of the extent of civilian deaths there resulting from the American invasion and occupation. What Roberts found there changed the debate over the war, ending speculation over the extent of violence in Iraq with a more scientific level of certainty: It was statistically probable that well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed by the end of 2004.
The experience Les Roberts had on the ground in Iraq has directly informed the plan he is proposing for ending the Iraq War. In an interview with Roberts available on our main site, he explains,
“I spent the month of September, 2004 in Iraq. I never was protected by anyone with a gun. I stayed healthy and free, just by trying to be invisible and by the good will of the Iraqi people. Of every Iraqi I spoke to who could communicate in English, or when my driver was there and I could communicate with them through my driver and he felt it was safe for me to speak English in public, I would ask, “Why do you think the coalition came?” No one, not one person said anything related to Saddam. They thought we had come for two reasons: We came for oil and we came to create a setting of anarchy so that every nefarious element in the region would come and fight us there, rather than fighting us in North America or fighting us in Israel. When, a few months ago, the British military commissioned a poll, they found 82 percent of Iraqis want the coalition gone now, I think it shows us that we do not have either the moral high ground or the minimal support required to be a force of stabilization.
So, I basically agree with John Murtha’s assessment that the coalition is the fuel on the insurgency. I think that we could defuel that anger by severing the appearance that we’re there for oil. The first and most important thing we could do to get out of Iraq is to, for a five year or a ten year period say that no American corporations will remove any mineral resources or will make any profit from Iraqi minerals or mineral resources. We’ve done that in Libya and we’ve done that in Cuba and we’ve done that elsewhere. It would be easy to do, and it would do so much to remove the perception that those soldiers that they see on the street there are there today actively to loot their oil.”
At first, it appeared that Les Roberts would face an uphill battle against an incumbent Republican, congressman Sherwood Boehlert. Since Roberts entered the race, however, Boehlert has been linked to a Republican donor under investigation on corruption charges. At the same time, Representative Boehlert’s position on the House Committee on Science has come up for grabs, with Boehlert losing the seat because of term limits on committee leadership. As a result, Boehlert’s fundraising has taken a serious hit, and rumors are mounting that Boehlert will not seek re-election this year.
Republican replacements for Sherwood Boehlert are waiting in the wings, though only one other Republican is officially in the running: Brad Jones, a former mayor of Seneca Falls, is widely regarded as lacking the experience and the base of power needed to win the general election, even if he captures the Republican nomination. Jones has a history of right wing politics that will not be palatable to the voters of the 24th District, turning off the centrist voters that Sherwood Boehlert has long relied upon for victory.
The Democrats who are vying with Les Roberts for the nomination are showing a slow start, often beseiged with ugly rumors. Bruce Tytler, the former mayor of Cortland, is expected to announce his candidacy this week, but already a group of anonymous Cortland residents are trying to torpedo the Tytler for Congress campaign, engaging in a whisper campaign suggesting that Tytler is running only to put donations into the pocket of Bill Wood, the chair of the Cortland County Democratic Party.
So, with sluggish Democratic rivals who may be kneecapping each other in the effort to play catch up, a weakening incumbent who is leaving his supporters unsure of his resolve, and a national campaign of anger and distrust of the Republican control over Congress, what was at first a sleeper race has quickly become a viable contest, with a real possibility for a Democratic capture of the seat.
The Les Roberts campaign appears to be capitalizing on this attention, receiving funding exclusively from individuals who represent a healthy mix of Democrats in Central New York and other supporters from across the country. Don’t be surprised if, in a month or two, you start seeing reports about the Les Roberts campaign on the national news networks.