Primary clash overshadows special vote

OBSERVER Photo Max Della Pia, right, speaks to a worker at the Dunkirk Senior Center on Wednesday. He is running in the special election for the Congressional Districtc 23 seat.

Lost in the highly hyped Republican primary showdown that pits Carl Paladino against Nick Langworthy for the District 23 Congressional seat is the fact there is a special election for the post that opened after Tom Reed’s resignation in May. Democrat Max Della Pia is facing off against Joe Sempolinski, Steuben County Republican chairman and former Reed staffer.

Registered Republicans will receive two ballots — one for the primary, the other for the special election. Other voters will decide on the Della Pia-Sempolinski contest, which allows the winner to hold a seat in Washington for three months and have about as much clout as a couple of ants at a picnic. But both candidates have their reasons for running.

For Sempolinski, it is simple. This is his chance.

Long before the redistricting that takes place after each 10-year Census — or the Republican challenge to the state’s gerrymandered maps– Sempolinski did not shy away from stating his intentions to run for Congress.

In fact, he was the first to throw his hat in the ring.

His problem, however, was bigger names — and stacked campaign coffers — got in the way. First it was U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, who toured the Southern Tier for two months as the chosen candidate. When revised maps came out in May, Tenney moved elsewhere and current Rep. Chris Jacobs was annointed. He soon became unsupportable by the party after he spoke for some form of gun control after the horrific mass shooting that killed 10 in Buffalo.

Jacobs’ show of compassion violated Republican marching orders. He was out.

Enter Paladino and Langworthy as the primary candidates. The two are looking to capitalize on a dominantly red district. But in doing so, both have ruffled some feathers.

Paladino, who was removed from the Buffalo school board in 2017 after racist remarks regarding Barack and Michelle Obama, has no filter. Early on in this campaign, he referred to Germany’s Adolf Hitler as “the kind of leader we need today” because of his ability to rally crowds.

Langworthy won’t make those types of comments, but he has alienated key leaders in his own party. As the New York state Republican chairman, his No. 1 job was to get Lee Zeldin in as governor.

At this moment, Langworthy is more worried about his own skin than that of his party. A loss to Paladino would further damage his already shaky status.

It all brings us to the candidate from the minority party– a soft-spoken individual who has carried on while the circus has been the center of attention. Della Pia, who is facing a daunting task, has been involved in the least amount of controversy to get to this election. As a Democrat, he is running in both the special and November election.

Over the last three weeks, he has made numerous trips from his home near Binghamton to Chautauqua County stopping at the fair, a Democratic rally and the Dunkirk Farmer’s Market on Wednesday. He insists he wants to do something Reed was known for in recent years: finding common ground.

“We need to start talking with one another and instead of poking each other in the eye,” he said. “The divisiveness in politics today has created an unbearable environment for all of us. We need to focus on what brings us together as Americans and not what pulls us apart. We can agree to disagree on some issues but we need to focus on a couple issues we can agree on to move the country and our constituents’ interests forward.”

By the way, Sempolinski and Della Pia are more connected to the rural Southern Tier than the two fighting it out for the November Republican primary nod. Paladino lives in a metropolitan region. Langworthy, who grew up as a rural boy, has grown to love the bigger stage.

There is one thing all three Republicans can agree upon: current President Joe Biden is the wrong man for the job. “The Biden administration is leading us to an economic disaster. Inflation threatens to rob hard-working families of their savings,” said Sempolinski, who will only be in Congress for three months if he wins the vote to fill Reed’s remaining term. “The federal government simply cannot spend at the levels of the Biden administration without ruining the economy. The focus of the federal budget needs to be on the roles laid out for the federal government in the Constitution, not solving problems better handled by the states or the private sector. The federal government needs to be a partner for businesses that are seeking to add jobs, not a hindrance.”

Early voting for both the special election and primary begins Saturday and runs through Sunday, Aug. 21 at the Board of Elections offices in Mayville, the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, the Chautauqua Mall in Lakewood and the Chautauqua County Fairgrounds in Dunkirk. Polls also are open from 6 a.m to 9 p.m. Aug. 23.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 716-366-3000, ext. 253.


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