WHAT I HEARD ON THE RADIO FRIDAY
I’m voting for Chris Collins.
In spite of how he handled himself Friday.
He was on the radio – on my show, in fact – though I was off. I had to work in the early morning in Syracuse, but was on vacation the rest of the day, for a family reunion, and as I drove the two hours home I listened to the fill-in and his guest.
First, the fill-in.
For the first time in the 17 years I’ve done the Rochester show, I had a say in who replaced me when I took a day off. I didn’t decide, but I did get to recommend, and my recommendation was considered.
Which is how David Bellavia got on the air. He is a sometime congressional candidate, a former soldier, and the author of one of the great memoirs of the Iraq war. He’s got a sergeant’s gift for gab, and a good heart, and I thought he might do a good job.
He did a great job.
I was thrilled and proud, and felt that for the first time I had heard someone local who could do what I do better than I do.
It was a great show, and for the last 90 minutes he had scheduled two guests. One was Chris Collins, the candidate who only weeks ago barely defeated David Bellavia in the Republican primary. The other was the Democrat incumbent they had both pledged to beat – Kathy Hochul.
Collins was to come on for 30 minutes, starting at 11:30, and Hochul was to follow with her 30 minutes, at 12:30.
That was a gutsy and potentially interesting move, given the fact that, through the campaign, David Bellavia had trashed – accurately, I believe – both Collins and Hochul. And, to return the favor, Collins had trashed Bellavia. Further, after the election, Collins had not been particularly gracious toward Bellavia, in spite of the fact that Collins had told me that, after defeating the former soldier, he had hired him in some form or another.
So all of that, mixed in with the amiable and witty air Bellavia had brought to the show, augured well for an interesting hour and a half.
But Chris Collins blew it.
He got nasty, and he took over the show.
Instead of leaving after his 30 minutes, he stayed. And from the beginning, he threw out something of a challenge to Hochul, almost taunting her, calling on her to join him on the air for something of a live, impromptu – at least on her part – debate.
Which is not how it’s done.
That’s not a debate, that’s an ambush.
And it’s cheating.
The rules were set up before the thing went forward. Each candidate gets 30 minutes, talking to the host and possibly taking calls.
Those were the rules.
Once you set the rules, you don’t break them. We may kick politicians in the seat of the pants on a pretty regular basis, but you don’t deceive them or trick them into something different than what you’ve promised.
Chris Collins’ self-proposed 90-minute appearance on the show also violated the spirit of the equal-time doctrine. Though I can’t stand the government telling me who can be on my show for how long – and I consequently avoid the entanglements of the federal rule – decency and fair play say that if you give one candidate an hour and a half and the other candidate only gets a half an hour, that’s not right.
We’re here to convince people, not con them.
On my show, during campaign season, if I have a candidate on, I have the producer make an offer of equal time to the opposing candidate. Some take me up on it, and some don’t. But it’s their decision, not mine.
Interestingly, through the primary campaign, though I had Bellavia on, and offered Collins equal time each time I did, he never accepted.
But no matter how you slice it, the 3-to-1 time advantage for Collins wasn’t right.
Neither was the taunting, the hinted-at debate, and the subsequent inference that Congresswoman Hochul had chickened out when she didn’t keep her appointment and come on at 12:30.
Chris Collins set a juvenile trap, and Kathy Hochul didn’t step in it, and – if e-mail is any indication – listeners thought it was a stupid and dishonorable ploy.
If you’re Hochul or her staff, think how you would have reacted. First of all, you’re invited on by Bellavia, who has spent the last six months ripping you up one side and down the other. Maybe he’s a legit guy who’s going to play it straight, or maybe he’s a guy who’s still trying to curry favor with his party and is going to sand bag you.
You were told it was 30 minutes per candidate, and that the candidates weren’t going to be on at the same time, but on your radio you hear the other guy go on and on and on, and he’s publicly saying he wants to stay and take you on.
That’s not what you signed up for. That’s not what you were promised.
If you’re Kathy Hochul, this doesn’t look like journalism, it looks like a bushwhack.
And you walk away.
I can’t blame her. I wouldn’t have walked away, myself, I would have come on and ripped Collins’ head off, but I’m probably a bit more foolhardy than Kathy Hochul and she’s probably a bit more polite than I.
So that whole thing, apparently orchestrated by Chris Collins, bothered me.
So did his repeated harping on the fact that Hochul and her husband are “public-sector millionaires.” Over and over and over, the fact that Hochul and her husband have money was made out to be a bad thing.
Which is an odd argument to be made by a man who is a millionaire himself.
Hochul and her husband have spent most of their working lives in government employ. She has been a congressional staffer and he has spent his career as a Justice Department prosecutor. And he has capped that career by being named the United States attorney for the Western District of New York.
She has run for political office – town board and county clerk – and he has not.
And apparently they have managed their money wisely. Mr. Hochul has been the prime breadwinner and has had an upper-middle class income – he is a lawyer who locks up crooks – and they look like they have lived within their means, avoided unnecessary debt, and invested and saved.
And, yes, they now have assets in excess of a million dollars. And, yes, they have worked for the government.
Though, yes, Kathy Hochul had a dad who was a successful CEO – just as Chris Collins himself has been a successful CEO, and his own father was a highly successful executive with two major corporations.
So I just didn’t get where a millionaire candidate for the party of capitalism came off criticizing an opponent and her husband who have spent 30 years building their own American dream.
The more I listened, the more I wished David Bellavia had won.
Chris Collins is excited about this new chapter in his life, and his road to self-actualization is apparently going to lead through the Capitol.
And, yes, I am going to vote for him.
But I don’t like the insight into him I got on Friday. He was a bully, he wasn’t that bright, and when someone seeks to manipulate you through a cheesy ploy, what he’s really doing is telling you that he thinks you’re stupid – because only stupid people fall for cheesy ploys.
In the mix of his appearance, Chris Collins hit on Kathy Hochul’s fatal weakness, but he diverted attention away from the strength of his argument by the flaws of his presentation. What is Hochul’s weakness? She’s a liberal. Not just by party affiliation, but by lifelong philosophy and congressional voting record.
That’s legitimate. That’s true. That’s enough.
This is a conservative district. This is a sea-change election. Kathy Hochul is a nice person, but she has a voting record that is liberal by almost all measures – particularly in contrast with the values and attitudes of the district she represents.
This election is about saving the country from Barack Obama and anti-American socialism. It’s about defending our shores and balancing our books. It’s about having a president who doesn’t fundamentally hate our country. The voters of this district know that. What they need to know is that their congresswoman looks at things differently than they do.
That can be done in a gentlemanly way. It can be done in a classy way.
I disagree with Kathy Hochul, but I don’t dislike her. I think a majority of district voters feel the same way.
Chris Collins should focus on that, and lay off the stunts and name calling.
I’m voting for America. In my district that means I have to pull the lever for Chris Collins.
But it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2012