Editor's note: This is the first of two parts on the Democratic Primary for the 23rd Congressional District.
By ERIC TICHY
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
Leslie Danks Burke
How do candidates running for the new 23rd Congressional District plan to represent the entire sprawling Southern Tier, while still keeping that local appeal?
The district - stretching along the Pennsylvania border from Chautauqua County to Tioga County before it jettisons north - encompasses nine cities and countless villages, towns and hamlets.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann in March designed the widespread congressional district after state lawmakers were unable to agree upon a model of their own. And with that, Chautauqua County rejoined the Southern Tier district in Congress after a decade of representation with most of Erie County.
So when it comes to the political campaign trail, it's easy to understand why having local appeal has become important for the four candidates seeking the congressional seat in Washington.
"Rather than being in the D.C. bubble, I prefer to travel the district listening to the ideas and concerns of people from Western New York," said incumbent Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning.
Reed, a first-term congressman, noted his 66 town hall meetings across the Southern Tier since taking office, and called his constituents his No. 1 priority while serving in Washington.
"And while the new district is very large, what I have seen is that the small-town values of hard work and individual initiative and responsibility that I grew up with in Corning are consistent with the values of my new potential constituents," he said.
Other candidates have noted the commonalities in the Southern Tier, most notably the agricultural and tourism sector. Leslie Danks Burke, who is running against Nate Shinagawa and Melissa Dobson on the Democratic ticket, said she plans to promote the region's deep-rooted agritourism business.
"I am committed to representing this entire region," Burke said, "recognizing that there are differences, but that we have a lot of common interest, too."
Burke noted she was the first candidate to open an office in Chautauqua County, with her main office located in Jamestown. She said she is committed to maintaining a "strong presence" in he community while serving in congress.
What will be most challenging to accomplish that presence?
"Definitely the travel time," Burke said. "That is certainly the challenge. But I am committed to making sure I am physically present in the communities as much as I possibly can be."
"The transit time is not going to be a barrier for me," she added.
Dobson, meanwhile, said she understands the widespread aspect of the new district, and said to represent the Southern Tier in Congress, a representative needs to cater to the large cities and the rural villages.
The lifelong resident of Upstate New York, Dobson said representing the entire congressional district means becoming familiar with all constituents.
"I plan to be integrated with the community and really reach out to different forums, from small towns to our large cities," Dobson said, noting she would consider moving to a central location in the district.
"I'm trying to connect with everyone," she added.
As for Shinagawa, who has received the endorsement from the Chautauqua County Democratic Committee, he said great representation means having the right staff in the right places.
"You need to have district offices," Shinagawa said. "I definitely will have one in Jamestown, no doubt about that. In terms of other communities, ideally, we would like to have one in Olean, Corning, Ithaca and other communities."
Shinagawa currently has an office in Dunkirk, whose workers are currently calling local residents regarding the election. He said those working in his district offices won't be "political positions," rather he said they would be great communicators and constituent-helpers.
"That's often what you need," Shinagawa said. "They just need people who are they that can answer the phone and will work for you."
Candidates, though, are wary of representing a huge congressional district - none more, though, than Reed.
"Certainly travel time and logistics become a challenge when the drive time from one spot to another can be more than four hours," Reed said. "We're approaching 100,000 miles on my Buick and will put another 100,000 on it if I am elected to serve the 23rd District."