The national attention focused on the special election for New York's 23rd Congressional District has proved exhilarating, frustrating and slightly irrelevant.
Political analysts have cast the three-way race in different ways. Some have described it as a civil war between Republicans. Others have depicted it as a referendum on President Barack Obama and the Democratic-led Congress. Whoever wins this contest will determine the future of — insert your concern, idea or cause here.
One thing for sure. In a little more than a week, the national spotlight will shine elsewhere and residents of this quiet, beautiful, quirky, varied region of upstate New York will return to more normal pursuits of complaining about the weather and preparing for the onslaught of snow.
Before that happens, it behooves us all to decide wisely in the race between Republican Dierdre K. Scozzafava, Democrat William L. Owens and Conservative Douglas L. Hoffman. That decision — and it is an important one — must be based on which of the three can best serve this sprawling 11-county district.
For more than a century, this part of New York state has been represented by a member of Congress who attended to the practical concerns and real needs of the region and its people. Former Rep. John M. McHugh, who did an outstanding job representing us for nine terms, continued a long line of congressmen who understood the district's bread-and-butter issues and how to use political power to help its people.
Mr. McHugh, like David O.B. Martin and Robert C. McEwen before him, worked diligently to advance Northern New York's interests while serving the nation capably through measured, thoughtful, studied governance. Mr. McHugh's advancement to Army secretary reflects that.
Neither ideologues nor hard-line partisans, they understood their district, how Washington works and how that knowledge could be used to benefit Northern New Yorkers.
Dierdre Scozzafava is the candidate best equipped to continue this legacy in Congress.
Of the three hopefuls, she is the most experienced, the best informed and the most responsive to Northern New York's needs.
Ms. Scozzafava has a long record of public service — as a village trustee in Gouverneur, mayor of that village and more than a decade in the New York State Assembly. She is the first woman to serve as Assembly minority leader pro tempore, which entails leading debates and guiding the GOP agenda.
The assemblywoman is focused on constituent service and takes a bipartisan approach to governing. She has served Northern New York's diverse interests — manufacturing, agriculture, hunting and fishing, labor, tourism, environment, the Seaway and Fort Drum, to name a few.
She has been a leader in protecting the rights of women, children and crime victims. Her chairmanship of a task force to protect women and children from domestic abuse and sexual violence raised awareness of the problems and resulted in legislation.
Her answers to questions posed by this newspaper about district issues reveal both a breadth and depth that are unmatched by her opponents' responses. During this campaign she has been the candidate most focused on the district, the most willing to debate and the least likely to be diverted by outside interests.
Mr. Hoffman, an accountant and businessman who lives outside the district in Lake Placid, has harnessed a national firestorm of conservative dismay with government. But his ideological stands could harm the district. An example: He has sworn on principle not to request congressional earmarks even though they were essential to raise federal funds for the expansion and improvement of Fort Drum. Would he hew to this stand at the expense of the district which has benefited mightily from Drum's development?
When asked a series of questions about the district last week, Mr. Hoffman drew blanks in several areas. We cannot wait for Mr. Hoffman, who has been co-opted by the right-wing national politicians, to do his homework.
Mr. Owens, the corporate attorney, community leader and Air Force veteran from Plattsburgh, has cited job creation as a major recommendation for his candidacy. The independent who has just enrolled in the Democratic Party, and who has received backing from President Obama and former President Bill Clinton, says that he has created 2,000 jobs and will continue working for economic development in Northern New York. He has pledged support for Fort Drum and the region's farmers. He emphasizes job training for veterans and advocates attracting alternative energy industries to create "green collar" jobs.
None of us will ever turn our backs on more jobs, but the Democratic candidate has too much to learn about district issues and the job of governing.
Dede Scozzafava has lived these issues during two decades in elected office. She has excelled in constituent service and she is a known politician, a proven leader and the candidate best prepared to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
To ensure that Northern New York continues to be effectively and competently represented in Congress, voters are urged to cast their ballot for Republican Dierdre K. Scozzafava.