Showdown in the 20th

Two local politicians go head-to-head to claim the 20th Congressional District seat. Plus: local races

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Sandy Treadwell

It’s been a while since you’ve held elected office. Why did you decide to get back into the political game?
Treadwell: Washington is broken; Congress is broken. Far too many members of Congress are focused on their reelection rather than solving the problems of the country. I will serve not as a partisan, but as someone who will represent the 650,000 people of the district, and I will do what’s right for the people of this district. When I was secretary of state, I worked with local government leaders and community activists and helped them acheive their vision for their communities. That has been good preparation for the job that I now seek.

You were born in London, correct?
Yes. My father served in the British army for 25 years. He was a British citizen. My mother grew up in Albany. She went over to England as a Red Cross volunteer in the late ’30s. They met, and after the war I was born in ’46, and the family came here. We lived in New York City where my father worked, but also on my mother’s father’s farm in Essex County, which we still have.

So how old were you when you came over to America?
Six months old — no British accent. [I went into] public service because I really lucked out with my parents, and I heard about how important public service was from them at a very young age.
When I was 17, Martin Luther King came to my school. It was in 1963, a couple of months after the “I Have a Dream” speech. His message to us was you should give yourself first to your family, and if you can you should spend time helping out your community. I remember him saying that it could be a town, it could be a county, or it could be a larger community. His message was our lives would be enriched if we spent time helping other people. He was the greatest man I’ll ever meet, and I get chills when I think about it. I’ve thought about him a lot in the last year and a half.

I know you were just six months old, but having been born in another country, does it give you a different sort of perspective on what it means to be an American?
Yeah, it does. My father was always a British citizen, but he absolutely loved the United States. Certainly, having a connection through him to England means quite a bit to me. When I was a journalist, I spent a year [1986] traveling around the world — I did a book called The World of Marathons, about 26 marathon races around the world. That experience of traveling the world gave me a sense of this globe and the people in it. I really saw the diversity of the human race. It was a very rewarding, remarkable experience, that one year of my life.

So are you an avid runner yourself?
I was — I’ve run five marathons. I’m pretty proud of my best time — about 3 hours and 39 minutes — but that’s a while back. The marathon means a lot to me because it was a goal I had — I really needed to get off cigarettes, so running helped me do that. In 1980, I watched the people finishing the New York City Marathon. These would be the back-of-the-pack kind of people, and I was inspired by that, ordinary people doing an extraordinary physical accomplishment. So I made myself a goal: that by the following year, I was going to finish the New York City Marathon. The next day I huffed and puffed my way around the reservoir, barely made it, but then began running. The next year I did finish the New York City Marathon.
I was a sportswriter. I worked at Sports Illustrated as a reporter. I met my wife there; she was also a reporter.

What sort of sports did you write about?
College football and basketball. My wife was a pro football reporter; we shared an office. We still love sports, although we root for different teams.

What teams do you root for?
The New York Giants and the Yankees and the Knicks. She grew up in Chicago, so she’s a major Cubs fan. She’s very hopeful this could be the year, 100 years later. That would be great, actually. And she’s a great Green Bay Packers fan, and has been forever.

Do you guys ever get into any arguments about sports?
(Laughs.) Well, I promised her that if the Packers ever made it back to the Super Bowl that we would go. And we did [in 1997]. We don’t argue — actually, because of my campaigning schedule, I was not at home for the Giants-Packers championship game this year, which was probably a good thing.
I love sports, and I really enjoyed my time [as a sportswriter], but I didn’t want to interview 20-year-olds my whole life. The sportswriters age, but the athletes don’t.
I know you live up in Lake Placid...
The year I stopped being state chairman, we bought a house in Lake Placid. The plan was to spend the winter in Lake Placid and the summer on our farm in Westport. So we have a house in Lake Placid and that’s our residence.

Are you able to visit the Hudson Valley very much?
Yes, when I was secretary of state, I worked with folks in Red Hook, Tivoli, Marist College. I enjoyed spending time in the Hudson Valley. So beautiful, so historic, and so important.

Did you get a chance to do anything recreationally at all, a chance to run down here or anything?
I did spend a lot of time traveling. I met Wint Aldrich, who is an expert on the history of the Hudson Valley. I spent a great two days with him, learning about communities and the history there.

I was wondering if we could talk about politics. You attended the Republican convention in St. Paul. What did you think of John McCain and Sarah Palin’s speeches?
I was a national Republican party committeeman, and my term ended with the gavel closing at the convention, so I went there for two days as part of my responsibility. I sat with the New York delegation and listened to Gov. Palin; I had no idea she was going to give such a great speech. She certainly rocked the Xcel Center. The following night was Sen. McCain. I’ve been an ardent supporter of Sen. McCain, and listening to his life story, especially his war experience as a prisoner in Vietnam, was, I felt, very moving. They’re a very strong ticket in this district and I’m proud to be running on the same ticket.

What do you say to people who question Palin’s experience as an executive?
She’s been a very successful governor in two years. She took on the status quo; she ran in the primary against an incumbent; she took on Big Oil. I think she’s got a great record, and what really underlines that is her 80 percent approval rating from the citizens of Alaska. They clearly think very highly of her job performance.

Some people have said the Obama and McCain campaigns have become increasingly nasty. Do you think that’s the case, or do you think it’s like any other presidential election so far?
Obviously, this is an election that’s gone on for a very long time. Sen. McCain wanted them to have town hall debates and travel the country together, and I thought that was a great idea. That’s an opportunity for citizens and voters to hear both of them, in a somewhat informal atmosphere. I’m sorry that Sen. Obama didn’t agree to that. I want to do the same thing in my campaign. I’ve asked my opponent to try and do town halls. I think that’s just a great way to have a real conversation and a dialogue. That sort of a discussion elevates the dialogue beyond 30-second ads, but it’s clearly not going to happen, regrettably.

Let’s talk about some of the issues facing Valley residents and members of the 20th District. What do you think are some of the biggest issues?
One thing is the energy crisis — the cost of fuel at the gas pump, obviously the cost of heating our homes this winter. And it’s not just the fuel prices but it’s also prices at the store, prices of groceries.
I spent a day with a friend of mine, Bill Sutton. He was living the American dream — he was a truck driver, and worked for others for about 16 years, then he put enough money aside to buy his own truck. Bill was doing fine until the amazing escalation of costs of diesel fuel. He was doing a delivery from Washington County to Westchester County, and the first stop was at a gas station. He said, “Fill it up to $1,000,” which was what he paid to fill up his tanks. He told me that his American dream was collapsing. He can’t continue at these soaring diesel prices.
We’re still a country with an oil-based economy, and as long as we are, we have to have independence from foreign oil. The federal government needs to do something about it. I made a proposal from my end, but the sad thing is the government isn’t doing a thing about it.
And obviously the second part of our energy problem is our federal government has to encourage the production and development of the fuels of the future — wind, solar, biofuels. Instead of being the number one importer of foreign oil, I think we ought to be the number one exporter of renewables. That would be wonderful for the economy of the Hudson Valley and across America. I don’t have to tell you how beautiful the Valley is. I would challenge anyone to have a more beautiful congressional district than this one. We’ve got major schools and universities, and I think we have a very bright future. But the barrier, of course, is the taxes that are imposed on us. That prevents businesses from coming here and growing here. The only pledge that I have made is I will never vote to raise taxes on individuals and businesses.

Speaking of taxes, based on your Web sites and public statements, both you and Congresswoman Gillibrand have said you want to extend the 2001 and 2003 middle-class tax cuts. How does your proposal differ from hers, specifically?
Well, she’s not for extending the tax cuts. She has signed on to the largest scheduled, massive tax increase, for when those cuts expire. And I’m an absolute advocate for continuing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. They’re all due to expire at the end of 2010.
I spoke to her and she said —
We have a very different view on that. Our economy is struggling, and this is the wrong time to raise taxes. She has voted for this scheduled tax increase, which will kick in in 2011. It’s actually the biggest tax increase in American history.

Unemployment in the Valley is up 20 percent from a year ago. If you were elected, what could Congress do to help create new jobs in the region and attract new businesses?
Reduce the burden of taxes. We pay the highest taxes of any place in America, and that’s prevented companies from coming here. We have an extraordinary workforce, we’ve got a wonderful quality of life here, and we’re in competition not just with other states but we’re in competition with other countries for jobs. The first thing we have to do is reduce the tax burden, to encourage companies to come here. That has to be done.

A 2007 Dyson Foundation and Marist College poll shows that making health care more affordable is Hudson Valley residents’ number one priority. What can Congress do to make health care more affordable?
Congress has done nothing about health care. It’s a major issue, obviously right up there in the top concerns of Americans, and they’ve done nothing about it. I believe the answer is not a single-payer system — the government should not run health care. Health care should be available and affordable to everyone, but it should be driven by the consumer. The consumer should have more choice. Our members of Congress are able to choose what kind of health care coverage they want based on what they can afford, and our citizens should have the same rights as members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

So do you support allowing U.S. citizens to have the same health care plan as the government?
It has to be a competitive system, driven by the consumer. The consumer should have the right to choose what kind of coverage he or she wants, based on what they can afford, and I think there should be tax credits to help people buy coverage. I think a single-payer, government-owned system is unworkable, and it would end up driving up the cost.

You’ve pledged to serve no longer than four terms in Congress if elected. Is that right?
I believe in term limits, yes.

Why is that such an important issue to you?
Look at the gridlock that’s now happening in Congress. Just about every bill and every decision, the motivation for it is political survival and expediency. They’re not doing the work that the people sent them there to accomplish. Our founding fathers did not envision a professional legislature. They envisioned a citizens’ legislature. You brought your experience to Washington and then you went home. I am an advocate of term limits and I believe four terms is the right amount for a member of the House, and two Senate terms. This was tried in a little different way in the ’90s; we were talking about six years rather than eight in the ’90s, and it went nowhere. But I am absolutely an advocate for term limits.

To view more information about congressional candidate Sandy Treadwell, please visit


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