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NY-23 special election: Della Pia wants to serve

HED: NY-23 special election: Della Pia wants to serve

Della Pia Profile WEB

Max Della Pia is running as the Democrat in the special election to fill out the term for New York’s current 23rd Congressional District. The district encompasses Tompkins, Tioga, Chemung, Steuben, Schuyler and Allegany Counties. His Republican opponent in the primary is Joe Sempolinski.

Both candidates discussed their candidacy and some policy views with WSKG ahead of the Aug. 23 special election.

Max Della Pia FULL

Vaughn Golden: This is WSKG News. I'm Vaughn Golden. I'm here with Max Della Pia Democratic candidate for the 23rd Congressional District special election and also running in the general election later this year. Josh is excuse me, Max is an Air Force veteran, and has run for the 23rd district seat a number of years ago. Thanks for coming on, Max.

Max Della Pia: Thank you, Vaughn for the opportunity.

VG: So So we've offered these interviews to both the candidates running in the special election for New York 23rd district. That includes yourself Max Della Pia, as well as Republican Joe Sempolinski. This is the current 23rd Congressional District which stretches east from Tompkins County, all the way west towards Chautauqua and Allegany counties as well. The date of this special election is Aug. 23. We should also note this date coincides with a primary election. There is not a Democratic primary in the 23rd district, though there is a Republican primary to serve the full term in that seat. So for the structure of this interview, we're going to take some time to discuss you and your candidacy and then spend the remaining time discussing some specific policy areas. So can you just give me a, tell me a little bit about yourself and your history in public service.

MDP: I spent 30 plus years in the Air Force as a pilot, wing commander, Air Force Academy graduate. I've served in combat theaters. I was in the first Gulf War, Afghanistan. During the time I was in the reserves, I was active guard reserve and civil service in the Air Force 32 years, 10 months and three days, but I didn't count it it. I just remember it because it was on the form. But, so one of the things that they did was they sent me to be a Brookings fellow for Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) on on his personal staff and I served there for a year. And then I worked for the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Air Force Senate liaison. At that point, I had served as an attorney for six and a half years on my own practice in Wisconsin, and in 1990 when Hussein went into Kuwait, that's the last time I practiced law. So but I have used the skills that I gained there, certainly since then. I've also been very involved in the community. When I didn't win, I got very close, less than 1% in 2018, I looked around for things I could do to make a difference and I joined the Racker Center Board. That's special needs people we serve 2,600 to 3,500 people and their families. We want them to live the fullest life they can, we got 26 residence facilities, respite care facility, pre-k, audiology clinic, and we do custom programs for people to allow them to live in the community and have the supports they need. I've also recently stepped back from or having completed terms on the Tioga Rural Ministry Board. They have a food pantry, but it's more than that. If someone loses their car to a transmission failure, and they're working two jobs and minimum wage, they can't get ahead. They literally can't get to work, they lose their job, they lose their home, and they're homeless and that sounds dramatic and it is and it happens frequently in in our area. So I'm also ski patrol, Meals on Wheels, elder at church and property committee chair. The point is not what I do or what I've done. The point is, my focus is is really service. My parents were both World War II vets. My mom was Women's Army Corps and my dad was a paratrooper in the 11th airborne and he was in the occupation forces in the Pacific. And they taught me that service gives life purpose. And that's why I do what I do. That's why I'm running. I'm very concerned about our democracy and the trajectory we are on and I feel obligated to run based on that oath I took a long time ago to support and defend the constitution.

VG: Yeah, I wanted to get into that a little bit. What is your motivation for running and specifically, specifically, why Congress?

MDP: Well, as anyone following the news can see there are some very important issues that have come up recently, and and people are hurting in our district and we need to see what we can do to help. We need to pay attention to things like rural medicine. You know, we're having a hard time filling, medical service providers are not willing to come to rural areas. They're drawn to cities where there's more money. There may be ways of getting people there to help in that regard. Also, we have, we've basically been neglected as far as infrastructure for many years. So this infrastructure bill, it was bipartisan, it was something that I welcomed. And it used to be something that was kind of, yeah, we can, everybody needs it, so we don't argue about it, we just decide how we can make it work for everybody. It's not going to be a panacea, but it will help, it'll be really good paying jobs. And it's also got provisions that allow training for people to do the job here, by people here and that's very important. And that will have, you know, not just but also to to improve our infrastructure. I mean, our roads, our bridges, our water systems, and also broadband, something that all our our students need that came to view in COVID and, and then also, small business and farms needed to be competitive and do their jobs and do it better.

VG: So you previously ran for the seat in 2018, in the Democratic primary, and you lost in that primary came in second. What's different, this is a special election currently, and then will be a general election. So you are facing a Republican opponent this time. What is different this time around in terms of the race itself and why is this different from 2018 in your opinion.

MDP: It's quite different. As you may recall, we had quite a few other contenders in that primary. So it was, it was long, it was like a 14 month ordeal to go through the primary. In this case, I'm facing an opponent who is what some people refer to as a placeholder because he's not going to run in the fall. He's he said, he'd be proud to be the congressman for four days or four months. And for me, I have a longer-term vision for the district and for serving the district and for me, it would be a great opportunity to go in as an incumbent in the fall, and then face one of two interesting candidates, I'll say,

VG: And since 2018, you've also been involved in democratic politics, you're now the chair of the Tioga County Democratic committee and whereas four years ago, not as not as much, at least in a formal capacity, have you as a candidate changed in your relationship to I guess, kind of the party infrastructure?

MDP: That's pretty obvious, I think, yes, because I've been the county chair for four years. I've also been very involved in the Democratic Rural Conference, an organization of, I believe, 49 counties, that are basically rural that have special needs and that that's, and many of those counties are in that district, both the old district, the one we're running in, in the special, and also in the new one. So I was also a regional vice chair for that for about, I don't know, about a dozen counties across the southern tier and Finger Lakes. So I was central New York's vice regional chair for DRC.

VG: So in the last last two elections, the Democrat running in the 23rd, lost by a fairly significant margin, how are you looking to turn that around and change that and make a pretty significant reversal, especially in this August primary here?

MDP: Well, as you've probably, people watching that, the, it's very confusing for people for voters, and I'm glad you're doing this because it helps people make choices and also to help them know what's going on and participate. The, it's different, because this time I'm running, not against an incumbent, but but it's either going to be well, I've got a separate, you know, for the special it is Joe Sempolinski. And, but but in the next one, it will be against not an incumbent, but someone who is maybe well known, but perhaps has some, some issues, I guess. And I think people who know the candidates know what I'm talking about, and those who don't, I guess don't care, but I don't really want to get into those issues about those really

VG: So, we are focusing on the special election, but of course you are running in the general down the road and currently and this is all going through redistricting. Currently, Tioga County and your home and Owego are in the current 23rd district that you're running for in the special, but the district has changed and Tioga County is not in the new 23rd congressional district so you will not have residency in that that district. Why should folks in the new 23rd trust that you'll be able to represent them even though you don't live in the district?

MDP: That's that's a good question. When I started this adventure, it was parts of 14 counties and Tioga was part of it and then they redistricted the redistricting and they drew the line between Tioga and Chemung. So I'm now 19.8 miles from the edge of the new district, but I haven't moved and I haven't gotten any further from the far edge of the district. But, my wife and I, Nancy and I moved our family 10 times in the course of my, my career, and moving sometimes it's just part of service. And I will, if I win, I will go to the place where I can best serve the constituents, and they should count on that.

VG: We're at around 11 minutes. Now, I just want to move into some policy issues here. One that's really on the top of a lot of people's minds right now is the reversal of Roe v. Wade, via the Dobbs opinion from the Supreme Court. If you were elected, what are any legislative initiatives that you think you would want to put forwar and that would have potential to make it through the filibuster in the Senate? Depending on what that chamber looks like it's unlikely there will be a lot of Republican support, but what would you bring forward and what you what do you think could productively get through Congress legislatively?

MDP: Well, I think the tides are changing a bit. I do believe that. There is there is public opinion, that was demonstrated in in the election just the other night. A state had a referendum. And basically they said no, Roe v. Wade should not have been overturned, and they did not appreciate the partisanship that was displayed by the by the court. And I think that, from what Clarence Thomas's comments have been, this is just one step and it's it's going to be other things next. He mentioned gay marriage, you know, contraceptives. You know, we we are a diverse country and I believe that we need to protect people's rights, and I will protect a woman's right to choose in Congress. I think it's an important right. And it's just one of many rights that seem to be on the chopping block, so to speak, and it's just a matter of time if we let them proceed.

VG: Earlier this year, Congress passed a package of reforms related to firearms. Do you agree with those that were passed and would you have supported that in House if you were in Congress at the time?

MDP: I would have tried to, I would have tried to adjust some of the things I'm I'm a strong proponent of universal background checks, without exception. It should have ,we should pay attention to people on the no-fly list, people who have demonstrated domestic abuse, people who have mental problems. There should not be an exception for transfer between family members or or friends or gunshows and I think that's something everybody pretty much agrees with. If not everyone, certainly a large percentage of the population. Also I don't believe that we need large rounds, you know, 30-round magazines. It just if you use, if you're using it for sport, and you need 30 rounds to take down a deer I think you need more training. I also spent 30 years in the military. I'm expert marksman in 9mm, .38 caliber, M16. We expected people that we issued a weapon to to be able to demonstrate safe operation, be remain current and qualified before we do that, and that seems to make sense to me still, because you have to get a license to drive a car and and you can cause a lot of damage. The other thing is these large 30 round magazines, I mean, if they're detachable I know you can had to legally use them or get them in New York, but you can just go to Pennsylvania. It's, it's like seven miles away, right? So it has to be a national solution. People that have put their guns that have guns need to store them properly and if they don't, they should be responsible for the damage that is caused when they've left them negligently out for a child to pick up or whatever. So those are some of the things that I think, you know, the problem is, the definition of an assault rifle is is a problematic one because if you say semi automatic, it's virtually every deer rifle in the country. And it's, it's it's not helpful, you know, and yet, there are many things like AK-47's and AR-15's. If they're modified, that they become just killing machines. And that's, we actually put our police officers at risk when we allow people to have, you know, body armor, and these weapons that have detachable magazines, it's just not, it's not good, it's not good for a society. And we should not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, we can prevent some of this carnage, and we should. Another one that I think is important is the age demographic of 18 to 21 is 4% of the population and yet 14% of the mass shootings are done by that. So we should we should delay the access to these guns. Use the data we have and develop more.

VG: As a member of the House, what do you think the role is for lawmakers to fight inflation? It's I know, you have a little bit of a background in economics. Now, this is largely an issue of monetary policy, but of course, fiscal decisions do have an impact, too. So what what is the role for lawmakers in combating inflation that we've seen? 

MDP: Well, there are, we need to as a country, we need to plan what our strategic requirements are. For example, you know, as we're transitioning into a green economy, we also should remain energy independent so that we can't we don't have to be held hostage, so to speak by the likes of Saudi Arabia or Venezuela. It makes no sense to me. Also, computer chips, things that we need for our cars that have jacked up the price and delayed delivery of cars, everything from electronic devices to to washing machines. That that is something that should be considered a strategic asset, a strategic material that we need to have. And what we can do is is work to develop that, that what would you call that, vision for our national security. That's important. The Federal Reserve has kind of the the stick, so to speak, on monetary policy. They have to be careful, you know, if they raise the interest rates too far and too fast we can they can initiate a recession and that's a concern. Like you said, I don't have the authority to enforce the defense production act, but but things like those computer chips. It's a bully pulpit, you could use it for that. Also, it seems to me that there's a strong indication to me that there's price gouging at the pumps. I mean, when you eliminate the tax, 28 cents,  you know, logically it should come down, right? Well, it didn't come down, it just stayed straight, so who got that money? It wasn't us. It wasn't the guy going up to the pump to get gas. So we should look into that. Congressional hearings, would be appropriate and and also looking at people who are taking advantage of a situation. There is also the fact that the Ukraine has a great, what's going on in the Ukraine is having a great impact on the global market and it is a global market, but we should realize that Europe, Europe has been paying about twice what we've been paying even at the highest rates ,nine. eight, nine, over $9 a gallon for decades, and we've had kind of subsidized opportunity to buy gas. And I guess we got a little addicted to it.

VG: Including included in the reconciliation reconciliation package. That is, we're speaking on August 5 here, this reconciliation package that's being considered by lawmakers in Washington right now, included in there as a phased in approach to Medicare negotiating the price of some prescription drugs. This would go into effect over a few years and pertain only to a few different drugs. Do you support this, this direction that's included in the package and do you think. if so, do you think it goes far enough, and what else can be done to address the cost of prescription drugs?

MDP: I think it should be broader and faster. It needs to be broader and faster because it makes no sense to me that we have, pardon me, the buying power of Medicare, and we're not using it to negotiate the best price for drugs. And countries, like Canada are getting the same drugs that we are for a fraction of the price and there's such a strong pharma lobby in Congress, it's it gets difficult to get any traction in this. And we've been asking for this for decades, I think it needs to go faster and and broader.

VG: What else can Congress do to address the cost of prescription drugs?

MDP: Well, they actually were working on and it was a bipartisan effort to reduce the cost of insulin, because it was essentially going out of sight. I mean, it was years ago, it was $17 a month. And now it's like, it's like $500 more a month. So sometimes we just need to say no to pharma, and tell them that this is not part of their research and development cost that they're trying to recover. It is actually price monopoly and price gouging and it's not, it's not right and the people of the United States need need better, and we need to protect their pocketbooks and fairness. It really comes down to fairness.

VG: What is the federal government's role in addressing climate change and where do you think federal investments are best spent and how are they best allocated when it comes to addressing initiatives to address climate change?

MDP: I think I think it's it's sometimes problematic when the government chooses winners and losers. But, when they are trying to help, say, the National Science Foundation, or DARPA, or any of those programs, that we actually support research that can further the best interests of the United States. We need, we need to support them, you know, but and it's wide ranging, you know. It could be like batteries, you know, the, the, the size, the capacity, all that type of engineering is important, and we need to support science to make these changes, reasonable and doable because we definitely would like to have clean air clean water and an environment that is good for our grandkids and kids.

VG: There's, there's been a large push locally, at least around the Finger Lakes, to address environmental concerns about proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining. Assemblymember Anna Kelles Democratic Assemblymember up in Ithaca has sponsored legislation in the state legislature that would put a two year moratorium on on this practice here in New York. I understand that's a state measure, but would you consider supporting legislation to to combat environmental concerns about cryptocurrency mining if it were to come up on the federal level?

MDP: I would. I think Anna Kelles' legislation is prudent. It's thoughtful, and I think that we don't need to rush in here. It's a very basically a very unregulated industry, but it is very energy intensive and it's something that needs to be considered.

VG: The shooter who killed 10 people in Buffalo was from Conklin in Broome County. That's outside the either the old and the new district here on the 23rd. He penned a long document on his flatly racist beliefs. How do we combat that kind of hate and racism in our communities and what role does the federal government play in that?

MDP: That's, that's a big concern. One of the biggest, you know, it's complex. Certainly. Have you ever heard of the alt right, rabbit hole? Have you heard of that? Basically, these people, they're kind of loners, they get on online and people develop content, that allow that encourages them to engage. It might start with something that is at someone's, could be humor to, to start, but it actually starts to degenerate into something much worse and they get, they may not even the people who are creating the content are doing it for money for greed. So the longer the person stays engaged, the more money they make. So here we have someone that thinks they're doing something good for society and they're the radicalized, and it's awful. Disinformation, misinformation is is a corrosive, something corrosive to our society. It's affecting our politics. And it's our it's affecting, and I guess my hope is that it will be taken care of, in the courts, like Alex Jones, you know that, you know, someone that knows he's doing something wrong, but merely is just, you know, he's raking in the money from a very fringe group and we absolutely need to look at disinformation and misinformation. And if we can certainly take people who are too young to be in, in cyberspace alone, maybe maybe make it a, you know, there's an article in The New York Times today, talking about doing just that. So it's something that should be considered and looked at, because it's, it's a real problem for our society and it doesn't help when people say Uvalde, and the Buffalo shootings, were a false flag operation by the Democrats to take away our guns. And you may know who someone who said that or who posted that a potential candidate in the new 23rd, which is reprehensible and then he denied he did it and then he said, oh, yeah, I did it.

VG: You're referring to Carl Paladino, who is running in the primary for the general election and the 23rd.

MDP: That's not responsible, and it's not helpful to our political discourse or to our society and I think it's despicable.

VG: There's been a lot of talk back and forth, this will be our last question, about banning or limiting stock trading amongst members of Congress. Do you feel as though Congress does need additional rules about this and what specifics would you like to see?

MDP: Absolutely. I don't think I think it's a no brainer. Anybody that has control over substantive things that affect the price of stock, who is then trading on that knowledge and that ability should be thrown in jail. They shouldn't be in Congress at all. It's a no-brainer. It's something that needs to happen and if, if, if I can do anything to make that happen, I would absolutely do it because it's wrong.

VG: We do have a little bit more time. So I will throw one more at you here. Would you support federal legalization of adult use cannabis, recreational marijuana, and how specific should the federal government be with regulation given that a number of states have already come out with their own so far?

MDP: I think because it's so you know, we had a war on drugs against cannabis and it didn't work. I think that controlling it is is probably the better course, but we need to expunge the records of the these people that merely got sent to prison for having some pot because they happen to be perhaps a minority person because they need to be restored to their community and the felony removed and and allow them to move forward with their community and their families. I think that would be fair.

VG: Alright, that's about all the time we have. I've been speaking with Max Della Pia, a Democratic candidate in the special election for New York's 23rd district, as well as a Democratic candidate in the general this fall as well. The primary date is Aug. 23. Thanks for coming on, Max. Thank you.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.