ITHACA — Having announced in March her intention to run for re-election to the Tompkins County Legislature in 2013, Martha Robertson — who serves as chairperson of the Legislature — announced Thursday, April 11, she will be challenging U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-23rd, for his Congressional seat in 2014.
“We are at a critical point in our country,” Robertson said when asked why she was running for the 23rd Congressional District seat. “The Republican agenda is the wrong direction to go in.
“We need to invest in education, infrastructure, education and clean energy; we need to protect Medicare and Social Security that people have paid into all their lives,” she added. “We can do it, we must do it and I think there’s a better way.”
Robertson will have the challenge of facing an incumbent, someone who will have filled the seat for two terms by the time the election rolls around in November 2014.
“I beat an incumbent the first time I ran for the (Tompkins County) Legislature,” she said. “I’m aware of the issues and I’m not intimidated.
“I think the race last time show the voters of the district are definitely open to the kind of message I’ll be bringing,” Robertson added.
Asked why she’s announcing her bid now, about a year and a half before the election, Robertson said it would allow her “to introduce myself to folks across the district in every county and find out the things they’re concerned about.”
The demographics of the 23rd District lean heavily to ideals put forth by the Republican Party, but Robertson feels she has what it takes to connect with those voters.
“I have had bipartisan support every time I have been elected chair of the Legislature, I’ve had bipartisan support for every election to the legislative seat,” Robertson said. “I’ve worked with Republican county executives across the district on mandate relief at the state level.
“I think the idea of protecting Medicare and Social Security is a very non-partisan position,” she added, saying the country needs to change how its investing in its future. “If we starve our schools, we starve our future. This is not a wealthy district, I think it’s very clear that putting services and pressure on local taxpayers in terms of property tax is not working, that having a broader base of income tax is critical. There’s a better way for the services this country needs.”
Robertson also feels party politics will take a backseat to the issues that people in the district are facing.
“I think party lines are really deceiving,” she said. “I think people in this district are ready to listen to where we stand on the issues.”
Robertson noted that Reed voted against raising minimum wage and is supporting the Paul Ryan budget plan.
“I think these are basic economic issues,” she said. “I believe Tom Reed doesn’t represent the needs of the district, and it’s my goal to bring these issues out and win the seat in 2014.”
To answer the question of how she will fit in time to represent the people in her legislative district of Dryden and the needs of the county as leader of the Legislature, while also running for Congress, Robertson said she does not plan to seek the county chaipersonship for a third time.
“I won’t be running for chair of the Legislature, this year will be the final time for me,” she said. “That’s a big part of the time commitment. I feel I can serve the district of Dryden very well as legislator.
“People have been asking me for a long time to run for something else and I think they’ll support me being on the county Legislature as long as possible. Sometimes you have to step up and when I found out Nathan wasn’t running, I felt someone needed to step up to challenge Tom Reed,” she added. “I’m very good at multitasking, and I think I will be able to step back by not being the chair, which should make time, and people should feel I should be able to do a good job as legislator.”
The Tompkins County Republican Party disagrees with Robertson, saying the demands of her campaign will prevent her form effectively serving as not only the chairperson of the Tompkins County Legislature, but as a legislator as well in a prepared statement issued Friday, April 12. The press release also made note of fellow Legislator Nathan Shinagawa’s run for the same office in 2012, saying that resulted in him missing sessions of the Legislature while he campaigned.
“The 23rd Congressional District stretches across about eleven largely rural counties and about two hundred miles of the southern tier of New York state from Tompkins at the extreme eastern edge to Lake Erie, involving significant travel times in campaigning,” said Tompkins County Republican Chairman James Drader in a prepared statement. “Campaigns also require substantial fund raising. It is improbable that any single human will find time to adequately serve as chairperson and/or member of a County wide Legislature, be a committed political activist frequently in Albany, raise money, and be a congressional candidate in a huge district, all while attending meetings and doing all of these well.
“Due to the many demands that will be made on her time by these many roles, we call on Martha Robertson to immediately resign her positions both as Chairperson of the Tompkins County Legislature and as a member of that body and not to seek reelection,” he added in the statement. “Robertson has partially accepted our position by saying she will not serve as Chairperson in the next Legislature. That is neither soon enough nor complete enough. “
The statement also calls for Robertson not to run for or serve on the Legislature during its next term and, if she does, should make a public commitment to serve four full years.
“Without such action,” Drader said in his statement, “Ms. Robertson inevitably must be either an absentee candidate or an absentee legislator.
“To think that it is possible to fill legislative, activist, and candidate roles simultaneously and to do them well is presumptuous,” he added. “Mr. Shinagawa, a frequent absentee during his campaign, could not do even part of it, neither can Ms. Robertson.”
In the interview at the time of her announcement, Robertson noted that while she is announcing her bid now, the hardcore campaigning won’t truly begin until January 2014.
“There will be fund raising and behind the scenes work,” she said, “but the heavy traveling really won’t happen until next year.”
For more information about Robertson, visit her campaign website at marthaforny.com.