Mitrano facing uphill battle for Congress

OBSERVER Photo Democratic candidate Tracy Mitrano drew a crowd during a Dunkirk visit last spring at the Clarion Hotel Marina & Conference Center.

It was a reintroduction of sorts earlier this week. Tracy Mitrano, winner of the Congressional Democratic primary in July after the counting of absentee ballots, was officially getting back to business and the campaign trail.

In opening her first conference call with the media across the 23rd District on Tuesday, Mitrano offered a brief background. She was born in Rochester and her parents ran a small tavern-type restaurant. She graduated from the University of Rochester before receiving her doctorate in American history at the State University of Binghamton.

From there, Mitrano taught at Keuka and Ithaca colleges as well as the State University at Buffalo. She later returned to Ithaca to begin a family as well as attend law school.

As her children grew, she continued to teach courses before becoming the director of information technology policy at Cornell from 2001 to 2014, when she retired.

For a short time, Mitrano ran a consulting business as well working with clients that included the New York Public Library, the University of Massachusetts and worked in cybersecurity.

All are an impressive list of accomplishments. But her next 74 days will be more than an uphill battle.

Mitrano is taking on a heavily funded and highly recognized name in incumbent U.S. Rep. Tom Reed in the November election for Congress. Throughout the Corning Republican’s more than three terms, he has received plenty of criticism. Opponents believe Reed does not represent the interests of many in the district, which spans 11 Southern Tier counties from Chautauqua all the way east to Tioga, which is to the west of Binghamton.

Polling numbers, however, would indicate otherwise. After a close battle in 2012 against Nate Shinagawa, Reed easily defeated Democratic challengers Martha Robertson and John Plumb.

Both Robertson and Plumb had a least one thing going for them heading into their respective 2014 and 2016 elections: they had name recognition. Mitrano, for her part, is far behind.

Much of that blame lies with Democratic party leaders across the district, which allowed five candidates to fight it out until the bitter end. That is a testament to the party’s divisiveness. Candidate Max Della Pia had a 26-vote lead over Mitrano the day after the primary vote. But on July 3, it became apparent Mitrano — with more than 7,700 of the 23,501 votes cast — would capture the line through the absentee counts.

Thus, her major push and new campaign began. It starts with gaining greater name recognition — and educating the voters on the issues.

Some believe it may be too late, which is why this newspaper had two journalists on the conference call earlier this week.

Where does she stand on the major federal issues? Throughout the call, Mitrano says her campaign comes down to one issue that encompasses the rest: economic opportunities and development for the district. That plan, she notes, includes “a comprehensive approach that takes into account the need for what fosters economic development and that is healthy people, educated and skilled people, necessary infrastructure and appropriate and responsible conservation of natural resources.”

Mitrano referred to those ingredients on a number of occassions, even when discussing the possible future of the mothballed NRG Energy Inc. Dunkirk plant. WDOE’s Dave Rowley posed the question regarding what she would like to see done with the facility.

In sidestepping the issue, she called for “a much more vigorous approach to analyzing what could, should be done with that facility.”

Even candidate Robertson, who made the trip in a snowstorm from Ithaca to Dunkirk when Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the announcement NRG would be repowering in 2013, had greater conviction in having the plant in operation to boost tax revenues for area governments and schools. Mitrano, however, backed away.

Her hopes for unseating Reed, she notes, are not as dim as the pundits might suggest. She sees the dysfunction and corruption in Washington under President Donald Trump, which appears to be a lack of respect for their constituents, as an opportunity.

That is where Mitrano must capitalize. In looking at the 23rd District’s numbers alone, she said Republicans own a 20,000-vote edge over Democrats. To defeat Reed, she has to reach out to those who are not loyal in political representation.

“(There are) 90,000-plus people who are registered, but not affiliated with a party,” she noted of a recent New York Times survey regarding the district. “Most thoughtful voters in this district, they are the voters who voted for (President Barack) Obama in 2008. …

“This is not typically a Republican district, it is an independent district.”

But those independents, on results alone in recent years, have been seeing and voting red. That is just one more obstacle to overcome.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.

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