May 18, 2006

Roberts drops out of 24th District race

Democrat’s decision leaves Arcuri and three Republicans remaining

By Tom Grace, The Daily Star

Cooperstown News Bureau

Chenango County Democrat Les Roberts, 44, withdrew Wednesday from the 24th Congressional District race.

Roberts, of German, said it had become clear to him that Oneida County District Attorney Michael Arcuri was better-funded and supported by Democratic leaders in the district.

"Michael Arcuri is a strong candidate, and I came to the realization that my staying in the race would only make it more difficult for him to win in November," Roberts said Wednesday morning. "I think it’s critically important that we elect a Democrat and that Democrats take control of the House of Representatives."

Roberts said, "Republican control of the Congress and White House in recent years has given us the most destructive governance since the Vietnam War."

The pre-emptive war against Iraq and record deficits fueled by "tax gifts for the richest few" have left the United States greatly weakened, he said.

In recent years, "one-party rule has degraded the Constitution and American civil liberties dramatically," Roberts continued. "We need to do something about that this year."

Roberts said he would try to help Arcuri win in November, and later in the morning, Arcuri had kind words for his former opponent.

"Although it’s helpful to be the only candidate from my party, I’ll miss Les Roberts on the campaign trail," Arcuri said. "He’s very intelligent, very honest, and I know he brought our campaign up a few notches."

Roberts was the third Democrat to leave the race to succeed retiring Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-New Hartford. Earlier, former Cortland Mayor Bruce Tytler and Utica attorney Leon Koziol ended their campaigns. Koziol is now running for the New York state Senate.

Roberts’ withdrawal leaves four declared candidates in the race: Arcuri and three Republicans: state Sen. Raymond Meier, R-Western; Brad Jones, general manager of ITT Industries-Gould Pumps of Auburn, and Robert "Ken" Camera, an energy consultant from Geneva.

In response to Roberts’ comments, Meier said, "You know, the Democrats in this district continually try to make this race about Washington, but it’s not: It’s about who best reflects the desires and aspirations of the people in the district.

"They’d like to run against Tom DeLay, but they’re not," he said. "They’re running against me."

Meier said he already has been endorsed by Republican committees in Oneida, Cortland and Ontario counties, and by Republican executive committees in Seneca and Herkimer counties.

Jones, the first candidate to enter the race, said, "It looks like that leaves us with two lawyers and me in the race. One lawyer is a career politician, and the other one wants to be. Then we have one businessman who’d like to restore some fiscal responsibility to the federal government."

Camera said, "I can understand the problems Les encountered because it’s tough to run against big money. In my race, I tell people the Republicans have a choice between a candidate with few ideas and lots of money like Ray Meier, and one with lots of ideas and little money, like me."

Typically, GOP leaders have opted for money over ideas, Camera said, but he will stay in the race nonetheless to force a primary, campaigning mostly from his website, http://www.kencamera.us.

Roberts, an epidemiologist whose study of deaths in the Iraq War was published in the British medical journal Lancet, said he doesn’t regret his foray into politics in central New York.

"I’ve found that the Democratic Party of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and the Republican Party of Dwight Eisenhower are still alive at the grass-roots level, and that’s heartening," he said. "Our local governments are far better and more honestly run than the federal government, and that’s good to see, too."

However, Roberts said he also is more convinced that ever that American elections need immediate reform:

"I think it’s very important that we take the private money out of elections, so candidates can discuss the issues in depth, and voters can find out who they’re really voting for."