The Democratic and Republican candidates for the 26th Congressional District seat Thursday battled it out in a low-key debate that, nonetheless, highlighted their differences.
For both candidates, those differences largely toed party lines.
Both Alice J. Kryzan, a Democratic environmental lawyer from Amherst, and Christopher Lee, Republican businessman from Clarence, said they would have voted for the $700 billion bailout of financial institutions had they been in Congress. They also called for more regulatory oversight of those institutions.
But they parted company on the idea of government-sponsored universal health care, which Kryzan supports and Lee does not, and they differed on extending President Bush's stimulus program that provided significant tax breaks for businesses and individuals earning more than $250,000 a year.
Lee insisted that the Bush tax cuts "did give us significant economic stimulus."
"One thing I do know is if you raise taxes, there's a direct correlation for killing jobs. Right now, we don't need to be killing any more jobs in this community," Lee said.
Instead, he said he would prefer to focus on what he called a sound energy policy that includes increasing offshore drilling instead of relying on foreign oil.
"The big oil has made a lot of profits. Let's put those profits to work putting people back to work in this country. We cannot afford not to do. I am for alternative energy [and] for conservation, but alternative energy is not going to get us there," Lee said.
Kryzan agreed that the government needs to do more to aid small businesses.
"Small business is the backbone of our community, and we need to do more to lift regulations off the backs of small businessmen," she said.
"But my opponent says he wants to go to Washington and fight every day so that businesses can take more risks. I think that the risks that we've seen the Wall Street investment banks take have not been good for this economy and have not been good for us on Main Street," said Kryzan, who called for appropriate regulatory oversight.
Thursday's debate was held in the WNED studios in downtown Buffalo and broadcast over both WNED-TV, Channel 17, and on WXXI-TV, the public television station in Rochester. The debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Kryzan and Lee, both considered political novices, are competing for the seat being vacated by Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence. The district covers all or parts of Erie, Niagara, Genesee, Orleans, Livingston, Wyoming and Monroe counties.
At 60, Kryzan is waging her first run for a political office. In the September primary, 42 percent of voters chose her over Jon Powers, the party's endorsed candidate, and businessman Jack Davis, who twice waged unsuccessful bids to unseat Reynolds.
Lee, 44, joined Enidine, a family business, in 1995 and held various high-level positions around the country. The company, which manufactures shock-absorbing equipment and employed about 1,200 people under the International Motion Control umbrella, was sold last year.
In his opening statement during Thursday's debate, Lee stressed that he is not a career politician and plans to take what he has learned in business and apply it to Congress.
"I want to bring fiscal responsibility to Washington," he said.
Kryzan, who ran an issues-oriented primary campaign while her two opponents in that race slugged it out, said she hopes to cut through the mudslinging in Washington to deal with real issues.
The current economic crisis dominated much of the debate.
But both candidates elaborated on universal health care coverage.
Kryzan supports the concept while Lee said he believes the private sector is better equipped to handle it.
On global warming, Lee conceded that it is a problem. Kryzan, meanwhile, wants to create more "green jobs."
Both candidates also took swipes at each other.
"I believe that Chris Lee has been missing in action in this campaign. It's been almost impossible to find out where he stands on any of the issues of importance to us," Kryzan said. "He gave us his position on the bailout . . . five days after Congress had been in turmoil trying to figure out what to do."
Lee countered: "I've been in this race seven months. She's been in this race well over a year. I talked to a lot of people in the district who said she's been [missing in action] going around to seven counties."