Additional reporting by Eric Santomauro-Stenzel, Managing Editor
On Tuesday, August 23rd, while many upperclassmen at Hamilton College started to move into their dorms, New York held its primary elections for Congressional seats across the state.
Come November, Francis Conole (D) and Brandon Williams (R) will vy to earn the House of Representatives seat to represent NY-22, which includes Clinton, NY, where Hamilton is located.
Francis Conole, a Navy veteran and former policy advisor at the Pentagon, secured the Democratic nomination with strong backing from institutional forces in the Democratic Party, including an endorsement from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the official party campaign apparatus of House Democrats. Conole was one of four candidates for the nomination, narrowly beating DeWitt Town Councilor Sarah Klee Hood 39.4% to 35.4%, who was endorsed by the Working Families Party. Sam Roberts and Chol Majok split the remaining vote. Conole won most of his votes in Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse, and Oswego County, while Hood dominated in Oneida County, where Hamilton is located, and Madison County.
A press release from the College Democrats of New York (CDNY), who recently voted to formally disaffiliate from College Democrats of America, congratulated all candidates who won and offered gratitude for all Democratic candidates who ran. Looking towards the general election, the organization wrote, “November 8th will not be an easy election, and the key to the Democratic Party’s success will be on college campuses… College Democrats are excited to finally get to work and launch a vigorous campaign of energy and excitement across its several chartered campuses. There will be a Blue Wave in November 2022.”
Though CDNY did not make an endorsement in the NY-22 primary, President Reed Cleland gave additional comments to the Monitor via email: “Right now, NY-22 has several college campuses with active voting bases, including Hamilton College and Colgate University (both CDNY campuses). If Mr. Conole wants a campaign of energy and excitement that focuses on the future (as he says he wants), he is going to have to spend time engaging students on those campuses and discussing the issues important to them. He cannot expect them to show up on Election Night, especially when both Madison County (Colgate) and Oneida County (Hamilton) voted for Sarah Klee Hood.”
The Hamilton College Democrats sent a statement to the Monitor via email, reading in part, “The democratic process needs competitive primaries, now more than ever. The primary race here in NY-22 was exciting to watch, especially to see a diverse group of Democratic candidates taking strides in community outreach and engagement. In the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and Republicans' attempts to undermine democracy, Hamilton Democrats will continue to connect students to local political action.”
Conole declared victory late Tuesday night, speaking to a group of supporters, saying, “My message to all central New Yorkers is: We are fighting for you. We are fighting for our future and I continue to believe that if we’re going to confront the challenges of our time, we’re gonna have to do it together.” Klee Hood conceded via Twitter yesterday morning.
In a press release to the Monitor, the Conole Campaign said in part, “Francis is a lifelong Central New Yorker who has spent his life serving this country in the Navy and will bring that dedication and selflessness to Congress to confront rising costs and protect a woman’s right to choose.”
In the same press release, Conole spoke directly to these issues. He wrote, “Central New Yorkers are so tired of the chaos, extremism, and division in this country. We want common sense, and we want our neighbors back. We don’t want tax codes that sell out the Middle Class or extreme abortion bans.” According to his campaign website, he is in favor of making the Child Tax Credit permanent and codifying Roe v. Wade, among many other promises.
The Conole Campaign was the best funded campaign out of both parties, raising over $1 million across individual donations and, notably, Super PACs. According to the Utica Observer-Dispatch, Conole accepted “$476,393 from the Protect Our Future PAC, which was formed earlier this year with the stated goal of preparing for and preventing another pandemic.” Protect Our Future PAC is funded in near-entirety by Samuel Bankman-Fried, who is the founder of a cryptocurrency exchange, FTX.
Cleland also spoke on how money impacted the election: “College Democrats need to demand that our candidates reject assistance from Super PACs, especially ones like Protect Our Future which is funded by cryptocurrency billionaires like Sam Bankman-Fried, someone who enjoys wealth beyond imagination and makes financial contributions to candidates in the hopes that he himself will benefit. If Mr. Conole wants to earn the trust of College Democrats, I would advise him to reject Mr. Bankman-Fried's financial assistance and make clear that he stands with working people against radical Upstate New York wealth inequality.”
Klee Hood, in comparison to Conole, raised just over $132,000. Supporters of Klee Hood had hoped to nominate her as a progressive outside of the Democratic Party establishment. Unlike Conole, she received support from Utica politicians including Common Councilmembers Celeste Friend and Katie Aiello. Her campaign was also supported by the influential-in-NY Working Families Party, Vote Mama, and the Greater Syracuse Labor Council.
Brandon Williams, also a Navy veteran and an entrepreneur, won the Republican nomination as well as the Conservative Party nomination, a third party that allows Williams to appear on two ballot lines. Williams’s only opponent was Steve Wells, a lawyer, business partner, and former treasurer of the New York State Republican party. Williams defeated Wells by significantly more votes than Conole defeated Hood, taking a lead in every county and winning with a margin of more than 3,000 votes compared to Conole’s margin of just over 1,000.
The Young Republicans Club of New York (YRCNY) sent the Monitor a statement on the primary election reading, “The New York Young Republican Club was proud to endorse Claudia Tenney in her reelection bid to Congress. We can confidently say that Republican voters of NY-22 made the right choice in nominating Tenney to represent them in the general election. Tenney’s record in Congress in her former (pre-redistricting) district shows her commitment to America First values, and we know that she will be steadfast in representing her constituents in 2023 and beyond.”
Though Claudia Tenney previously represented Hamilton in NY-22 prior to redistricting, she ran and won her nomination in NY-24 on Tuesday, not NY-22. The Monitor did not receive a clarification from YRCNY upon request.
The Hamilton College Republicans but did not respond to request for comment.
Though Williams hasn’t been endorsed by Donald Trump to date, he has made his support of the former president clear. Williams’s campaign stated in a press release attacking Steve Wells on his record as a Republican, “Brandon Williams proudly voted for President Donald Trump in 2016.” In the Tweet in which he released this statement, and in many others, he used the hashtag #LetsVoteBrandon, a play on the right wing meme/dog whistle “Let’s go Brandon.” In another Tweet, he situated himself against the House select committee investigating the January 6th coup attempt by the far right, calling the hearings “some partisan congressional hearing.”
Another common theme among Williams’s digital presence is his veteran status, using military imagery and referring to himself as a “patriot” or “political outsider” in several places on his website and in his Tweets. He has also used his status as a veteran to position himself against LGBTQ+ people, leading to many transphobic remarks. In response to the news that the US Navy would be introducing gender inclusive language training, Williams Tweeted in part, “As a Naval Officer, I learned the meaning of nouns — honor, courage, commitment — not pronouns.”
On the same day that the Supreme Court announced its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, which effectively reversed the nearly 50-year-old precedent of Roe v. Wade, Williams made his commitment to being pro-life clear in a press release on his Twitter. He wrote in part that he is “pro-life by faith” and that he believes the “unborn” are the “most vulnerable of all.”
In their press release after the election, the Conole Campaign described Williams as “a Republican nominee that is too extreme and too out of touch for Central New York in November.”
In their statement to the Monitor, the Hamilton College Democrats also said, “Brandon Williams claims to be a political outsider, but let's call him what he really is: a threat to reproductive rights, our planet, and democracy.”
The Williams campaign did not respond to request for comment.
The NY-22 general election will take place on November 8, 2022. HamVotes, overseen by the Levitt Center, is in talks with the local Board of Elections to secure a polling location on Hamilton’s campus.