More than 20 advocates for independent living for people with disabilities were at a candidate forum Tuesday morning with the four candidates vying for the NY-26 congressional seat.
All four candidates were invited and expected to attend, but only Jane Corwin and Kathy Hochul made it. Jack Davis sent a spokesman who said Davis had an emergency at his manufacturing plant and Ian Murphy just didn't make it.
Both Corwin and Hochul opened with statements about their support for independent living, weaved in their usual stump speech remarks about jobs, Medicare and taxes, and then took questions.
In her opening, Corwin said as an Assembly member she has supported legislation benefiting independent living, including pushing for more group homes.
"I am certainly very supportive of the issues that are important to you," Corwin said.
Melissa Golpl (pictured above), disability rights advocate for Independent Living of Niagara County, came prepared with detailed questions for the candidates.
One of her questions was about Corwin's position on federal legislation to assist people with autism.
Corwin said she had a son who used speech services when he was young, "so I've seen from the inside how the system works and how important it is to get those services to children, especially at young ages."
As for autism, Corwin said that cases of autism in children have increased dramatically and in the Assembly, she said she worked to raise awareness among her colleagues to be more sensitive to the needs of people with autism. She also said she sponsored legislation to get more services for students with autism, including make it possible for them to participate in sports.
Greg Bruggman asked Corwin about her position on block grants for Medicaid, a proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan but opposed, Bruggman said, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Corwin said she supported the block grant proposal because there is a lot of fraud and waste in New York's Medicaid system and a competitive block grant formula would be the best way to eliminate it.
Hochul opened by saying she strongly supported the people who provide services to people with disabilities.
"I feel strongly the 26th district needs somebody in Washington looking out for people like you and the people you work with," Hochul said.
She said her concern with people with special needs is why she opposes the Ryan budget plan, which she said would decimate Medicare and Medicaid.
"What kind of community are we if we don’t supply support for people with special needs," Hochul said.
While Medicare and Medicaid need to be reformed, Hochul said, it's a matter of priorities and ensuring the programs are fixed in a cost-effective way that still takes care of people of people with special needs.
"I guarantee I will be a strong advocate for people with special needs," Hochul said.
Golpl asked about housing for people with disabilities and Hochul said there needs to be more housing built to accomodate the needs of people with disabilities and said she favored offering incentives to builders to construct such houses and apartments.
Above, Curtis Ellis, spokesman for Jack Davis, speaks to the gathering at the YWCA for the candidates forum. Media from Rochester and Buffalo were on hand, as well as a reporter from the D.C. bureau of the Los Angeles Times and a cameraman from CNN.