Mitris is a Rochester bankruptcy lawyer and a first-time candidate.
Morelle, a former state Assembly majority leader, leader of the Monroe County Democratic Committee and Monroe County lawmaker, is finishing his first term in Congress in a seat won as the capstone of a more than four-decade career in politics.
The 25th District includes the city of Rochester and surrounding suburbs that fall within Monroe County’s borders. Among registered voters in the district, Democrats outnumber Republicans, 43 percent to 26 percent.
Kevin Wilson is running on the Libertarian Party line.
Like most national races and some local ones in this presidential election year, the 25th District contest takes place in the shadow of Donald Trump’s presidency and a partisan divide arguably wider than the United States has seen since the Civil War.
Both candidates agree that the rift needs to be healed, particularly in a time when a deadly and still-worsening pandemic grips the nation. They differ on where the blame lies for creating and fostering the partisan gulf.
The Rochester Beacon’s Election Dashboard shows that Morelle has raised more than $1 million for his campaign, compared with Mitris’ $301,000. Funds for the Democrat’s race came from across the state, including contributors in several downstate counties including Westchester, Suffolk, Queens and the Bronx. Mitris’ campaign is largely self-funded, with $3,223 raised in Monroe County.
In 2018, Morelle defeated Republican James Maxwell, 59 percent to 41 percent.
In a recent locally televised debate highlighted by both candidates on their campaign Facebook pages, Mitris argued that his status as a non-politician would make him better suited to cross the aisle. Congress is divided, said Mitris, “and we’re not going to be able to fix it by sending the same politicians that are responsible in the first place—politicians are hard-wired to think in terms of party. I don’t want to hear it’s the president’s fault or it’s the speaker’s fault. I care about the American people.”
The comity Mitris aims for is laudable, but there is no possible way to reach it if one side, Mitris’ party, refuses to negotiate, Morelle countered. House Democrats passed a $3 trillion coronavirus-relief bill in May, but Senate Republicans and the White House ignored it for five months. A second bill shaved $1 trillion off the first relief package but also met with Republican resistance.
The Republican-controlled Senate, said Morelle, “hasn’t even passed a single bill in five months to deal with (pandemic relief). The president from your party—I’m sorry but that’s the ticket you’re running on—said ‘pull away from the negotiations,’ then he said ‘go big or go home’ and then he said ‘let’s do one-offs.’ It’s impossible to negotiate with somebody who just keeps moving the goal posts.”
The Democrats’ relief bills were larded with items unrelated to pandemic relief, Mitris countered, echoing a critique first offered by House GOP leaders and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican.
What such extraneous items might be is not clear, Morelle replied.
“I haven’t heard my opponent say one specific thing he would do with or without,” Morelle said. “It’s easy to say just get together and compromise. We would do that if there were people to compromise with.”
With the U.S. Supreme Court slated to hear a Trump-backed challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act shortly after Election Day, the candidates offer different remedies should the act, popularly known as Obamacare, be struck down.
Mitris called for a federal law allowing health insurers to sell plans across state lines, a move that he claims would enable insurance companies to expand risk pools and thus lower premiums and for Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate with pharmaceutical firms to lower prescription drug prices.
Morelle concurs on the latter point. He co-sponsored a bill calling for lower prescription drug prices, which was passed by the House but not taken up by the Senate, he said. Should the ACA be struck down, other questions than premium costs would need to be addressed, Morelle added. The act’s provision barring insurers from refusing coverage to subscribers with pre-existing conditions would go away and millions would lose health insurance.
In the pro-choice, pro-life debate, both candidates say they support a woman’s right to choose. Both also favor legalization of recreational marijuana.
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.