CORNING | Talk of statesmanship and the need to heal a divided country was contrasted with some sharp words between the two candidates in a debate held Tuesday between the candidates for the 23rd Congressional District seat.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, and his Democratic opponent Tracy Mitrano of Penn Yan answered questions, and questioned each other, during the hourlong debate.

The seating in the gymnasium at Corning Community College was full, and based on their reactions to the candidates, the crowd was dominated by supporters of Mitrano.

The event was held by The Leader’s media partner, WETM TV, and questions were asked by WETM’s Zach Wheeler and Brooke Taylor and The Leader’s Executive Editor Shawn Vargo.

The candidates were each asked, at one point, if they felt the country was more divided now than in the past.

“I feel as I’ve gotten older, this country has gotten more fractured,” Mitrano said. “I believe that when [President Donald] Trump came forward, he was exciting, and he was disruptive. And I understand his appeal to many people.”

But she said Trump has failed to provide “moral leadership” during his first two years in office, and suggested comments the president has made on issues of race and immigration may have helped to encourage acts such as the recent mass killing at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and the pipe bombs mailed to Democratic leaders and members of the news media.

Reed said he believes the country should be more united behind Trump because of the results his policies have created.

“Our country is divided right now, and it’s a shame,” he said. “We should be celebrating our success. Our country is experiencing tremendous job growth. [And] we should be celebrating our successes that North Korea isn’t arming itself with a nuclear weapon.”

But the other main theme of the debate had little to do with unity.

Reed was asked about his use of the word “extreme” in campaigning, and his response led to a series of heated exchanges between the candidates.

“It’s reflected in the contrast between my opponent and I,” Reed said, and went on to list a number of positions from Mitrano that he believes are “extreme,” from support for single-payer health care, to insufficient support of manufacturing to support of safe injection sites for heroin users.

Reed said he doesn’t believe providing a designated place for injection drug users is in the best interest of the community.

“I don’t think that’s the answer [to the regional and national opioid drug problem],” he said. “That’s why I want more support for our law enforcement.”

Mitrano, asked directly about the injection site issue, said she believes Reed has mischaracterized her position by not including specifics.

“This is a great example of exaggeration, hyperbole that does not represent anything I’ve ever said,” she said. “The injection sites would only be in communities that want them, under law enforcement surveillance, and they would be a bridge to treatment.”

The candidates went on to take more shots at each other, with Mitrano repeatedly talking about corporate financial donations to Reed.

“The costs of healthcare are skyrocketing, and Mr. Reed represents those interests,” she said in response to a question about healthcare.

Reed, in turn, accused Mitrano of “flip-flopping,” changing her positions on issues during the campaign.

“You say you support the second amendment, but in the primary you said you supported a national gun registry,” Reed asked in a question directed at his opponent. “On fracking, you said you had been against it your entire life, and yet in today’s Jamestown newspaper you’re quoted as supporting fracking. Given this dishonesty how can voters trust anything you say?”

Mitrano acknowledged her position on gun issues had changed.

“I did change my position on the second amendment,” she said. “I believe it is within the second amendment to allow background checks without loopholes. After that I don’t believe Congress should be passing any laws restricting responsible gun owners.”

She went on to say that her position on fracking had not changed, and that she continues to oppose it.

In her own question directed at Reed, Mitrano returned to the “extreme Ithaca liberal” campaign signs and ads.

“Mr. Reed, how can you claim the mantle of ‘No Labels’ when you label all of your opponents, anyone who disagrees with you, and a whole portion of this district, in fear-mongering terms?,” she asked.

Still, both candidates professed a willingness and desire to work across the aisle if they are elected to Congress.

“I think of myself as a centrist or a moderate progressive,” Mitrano said. Asked what she would do if she went to a House of Representatives where Republicans held the majority, she said she wouldn’t hesitate to support a bill forwarded by the GOP if she thought it would benefit the 23rd District.

Reed cited his role as a founding member of the Problem Solvers Caucus.

“What I have demonstrated many times is a willingness to work across the aisle,” he said. “I am a proud believer in people vs. government running our lives. I will stand firm on that principle and that philosophy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find common ground.”

Voters will decide who to support Tuesday, Nov. 6 when polls open at 6 a.m. around the district.

A video of the full debate from WETM TV is online at