Where was Nita Lowey?
That was the question voters – and Lowey's Republican opponent – were asking at a debate Monday in Rockland.
Lowey's staff gave moderator Gerry O'Rourke an "11th hour notification" that she was not going to make the debate, which was sponsored by the Congers and Valley Cottage civic associations. That left Lowey's opponent, Republican Jim Russell, taking questions from voters by himself at the candidate forum.
Lowey had "an urgent matter that she needed to attend to," campaign coordinator Kim DiTomasso said. DiTomasso wouldn't go into further detail, but a Sept. 11 memorial event in nearby Clarkstown was also cleared from the congresswoman's schedule, and the Clarkstown supervisor's office confirmed Lowey wasn't at the 5 p.m. event.
The congresswoman's absence left Russell, who is challenging Lowey for New York's 18th district congressional seat, in the company of several other Republicans – Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, who's running against Democrat David Carlucci, and Republican Frank Sparaco, who is challenging incumbent Democrat Ken Zebrowski for state assembly.
Voters at the forum queried the candidates on spending, taxes and healthcare.
Russell blasted Lowey for supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants and for appropriations abuse.
The Republican candidate said Lowey and others were using appropriations grants as campaign stops, pointing to events like a recent press conference in Ossining, where Lowey asked for press coverage as she handed out federal money to the local fire department.
Russell then gave his own wry pitch for the incumbent congresswoman.
"If you want more stimulus, Obamacare, and cap and trade, vote for Nita Lowey," he said.
Patch contacted Lowey's campaign for a response to Russell's comments. Lowey declined to respond to questions, but issued a statement saying her "hard work is helping to grow our economy and put Americans back to work."
"Over the last 18 months," the statement read, "Congresswoman Lowey supported the investments that gave 95 percent of American families a tax break of up to $800 and saved and created millions of jobs, including local teacher, police and firefighter positions; construction jobs for local rail, roadway, sewer and bridge projects; and medical research positions."
The economy has been the central issue for campaigns across the nation, as the jobless rate dropped to an official 9.3 percent in May after peaking at 10.6 percent in January. But the latest figures, released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in June, show the incremental increase was short-lived – unemployment rates edged up again, to 9.6 percent.
New York's unemployment rate has wavered with the national percentage during the recession, but has remained about a percentage point better than the overall figures and stands at 8.2 percent.
Correction: Lowey campaign manager Kim DiTomasso's name was spelled wrong in an earlier version of this story.