March 3 , 2008
An Interview With Phil Steck
The first declared candidate for our 21st Congressional seat gives a detailed conversation about the issues in this Albanyweblog exclusive report. Listen to the four part audio interview in mp3 format at the bottom of the page.
Phil Steck, candidate for the 21st Congressional District, impressed me as a well-informed knowledgeable guy with the drive and energy to carry out a successful campaign. But before we started talking, he didn’t know what to make of the Thing I dropped in front of him.
I conducted a two hour interview with Phil this past Sunday afternoon, sitting across from him at a conference table by a big plate window at 39 N. Pearl Street. To my right under the sunny window sat Tom Nardacci, communications director for the congressional campaign. The two of them studied sideways the Thing on the table like it was a dead rat.
I picked it up. “It’s an iPod with an audio attachment,” I told them. “It records for ten, twelve hours or more. It’s great for public hearings because it picks up voices across big halls.”
“Ooooh,” they chimed together. “So that’s what that is,” said the candidate.
Mr. Steck may not have been able to identify something that every single teenager in America knows at a glance, but I found very little else during the next two hours that baffled him. But he impressed me as the kind of guy who is willing to find out about the things that he doesn’t know.
Phil Steck At 39 North Pearl
Make no mistake about it, Phil Steck is every ounce a progressive. At one point in our conversation he used the dreaded politically incorrect word “liberal” to refer to himself. And like most true liberals, he is hardheaded and practical about the issues. And he has a very impressive resume which displays a lot of experience.
He strongly supports an immediate end to the War Against Iraq. Of course, everybody running for office these days claims that they are against the Iraq War, except for Insane John McCain. But Phil pulls no punches when it comes to transforming our military policies. From the speech in which he announced his candidacy for Congress:
Let me outline some priorities for you. First, we need to end this war in Iraq immediately. But it is not enough just to end this ill-conceived war. We need to end the same old, same old approach to foreign policy that led us to disaster in Vietnam and again in Iraq.
I asked for some elaboration. Phil wants to move toward ending the US military presence in Iraq altogether, closing the bases. Going even further, he wants to start closing many of the US military bases around the world. “Some of these military bases made a lot of sense during the Cold War, but don’t make a lot of sense now.,” he explained. Clearly, he is not interested in conquering the world.
Health care is perhaps his most cherished issue. He is one hundred percent in favor of single-payer health. “We already have a single payer health plan in the United States, it’s called Medicare,” he said, “and it works very well.” He wants to expand the system to cover everybody in America.
And he believes there is a good chance that we will see a national single-payer health plan pass Congress in the next few years. He’s made it clear that he wants to be part of the effort to create that plan.
Meanwhile, as an Albany County legislator from Colonie, Phil has worked to create an affordable and stable healthcare plan for County employees, sort of as a best-for-now . This plan, which he calls self-insurer, is administered by Albany County and will be made available to other municipalities within the County.
He is “very interested in the development of solar and wind technologies.” He feels that upstate New York State should become a center for “alternative energy.” This would not only serve as an economic stimulus, but as a way of lowering the high cost of energy in our state.
He is “a strong supporter of improving the public transportation network in this country.” He does not feel that subsidies for the road system should be shifted to public transit, though, because “we have a network of roads that is probably the greatest in the world and it needs to be maintained.” Instead, he feels the cost of building a new transportation network could be easily carried by ending the Iraq War.
In Lincoln Park, January
He “philosophically supports family farms over agribusiness.” Phil is the first to admit that he isn’t a farmer. But right up front he let me know that he has taken a keen interest in the problems of food production in the 21st District, which is heavily agricultural.
Through his current legislator position he has become aware of the poor farming practices promoted by the government that lead to lower quality food, such as hormone laden dairy products. I challenged him to consider shifting farm subsidies from supporting the shrinking traditional practices to the steadily growing natural and organic sector. He responded by vowing to learn more about these subsidies and price supports from those who have administered the programs.
It was through his work as a partner in the venerable law firm of Cooper Irving Savage in Albany that he became aware of how insurance companies make family farming more difficult by denying injury claims to farm workers. He believes that this is a problem that must be solved legislatively on a Federal level.
Also through the County legislature he learned how the Walmart corporation uses government health care programs as a public subsidy. Walmart deliberately lowers wages, and then tells their employees to apply for county assistance. “Costco keeps their prices low without doing that,” he said. As a result, he was instrumental in getting the County to return a $3000.00 grant that Walmart had proffered.
Marching For Dr. King With Fellow Legislator Bob Reilly And Albany Common Council President Shawn Morris
He discussed how in general, many of our laws which were passed to protect individuals have been perverted to promote corporate power. He calls this “unintended consequences” caused by court rulings. This widespread problem, he believes, can be reversed with legislation, so that individuals can feel secure from exploitation again.
In past conversations I have asked him about our rights and freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights. His response was to look at me puzzled, like why was I even asking? Throughout his law career he has fought against personal and workplace violations, and for individual rights.
Indeed, the first thing he brought up with me in the interview was a case that he he was working on involving a lesbian who was fired from her job because she had a relationship with a coworker. And he is doing this while he is running for public office.
With know-how, drive and strong positions like these, Phil may very well be our next Congressional representative. You heard it here first.
Why do I think he can do it? This past November, after fighting and organizing for years, he led the Town of Colonie Democratic Party to an electoral win that ousted one of the oldest and most ingrown Republican political machines in the country. They’d been in power since 1895.
Almost every politician talks about “grassroots support.” Phil Steck not only talks about it, he can cite a crowd of specific examples that demonstrate how his public career is rooted in the grass. He spent a lot of time explaining the give and take process of communicating with constituents and with his fellow legislators. Clearly, he comes to the congressional seat with the skills to do the job right.
As for the interview, this was certainly a first for me. I made sure to come prepared with a page of questions as a crib sheet in case I became disconnected from my brains during the interview. And except for a few annoying instances during the two hours, I mostly kept my mouth shut enough to let him talk.
How did I score this interview, you may wonder? Well, I asked Mr. Steck, and he graciously consented. I guess it’s part of his grassroots approach to politics to grant an exclusive interview to a lowly blogger, and I am grateful to him for giving me several hours of his time.
But I had also noted that the local media, both corporate and independent, seemed to be marginalizing him in their accounts of the 21st District Congressional race. In my initial email inquiry I pointed this out to him and offered to help remedy this problem in my own small way.
In a conversation after the recorded interview, Mr. Steck refused to criticize the local media for not reporting on his campaign, Rather, both he and Mr. Nardacci, his communications director, put the blame squarely on themselves for not finding a way to interest the staff and management of the media outlets.
Of course, a person in his position cannot afford to annoy or anger the media content providers and their owners. On the other hand, I don’t give a rat’s rear end what some local editor feels about me personally, so I can happily accuse the local media of marginalizing Mr. Steck because his positions are not pro-corporate enough for them. The candidate firmly did not agree with my opinion.
Upon reflection, I think that there is a more subtle reason for this media marginalization of his candidacy. You see, the media did not create his candidacy. The name Phil Steck did not appear on the mostly ridiculous list of possible candidates originally advanced by the Hearst-owned Times Union, a list which has been repeated ad nauseum.
Mr. Steck has created his candidacy for Congress on his own without media help. They don’t like that. Local corporate media outlets like the Times Union like to try to control political candidates as much as possible. And indeed, the Hearst Corporation has a history of blackmailing politicians, which they prefer to call “horse trading.”
Therefore, I think that it is very likely that as a congressional representative, Phil Steck will take office owing little or nothing to the media corporations. it will be very hard for the corporate media to “horse trade” him into submission.
Mr. Steck is a good speaker, and he comes across in the recorded interview clear and strong. I’d heard him give a talk a month ago at an RFK Club dinner and forum at Ristorante Paridiso which I wished at the time that I had recorded. This interview is a result of that missed opportunity.
On the other hand, my voice comes across in the recording like I ought to be dropped off at the cemetery and flung into the back topiary like roadkill. My excuse is that I’d spent the last week fighting a half case of this nasty flu that’s going around. At places in the recording you can listen to me snuffle and at one point hack up phlegm. Um... sorry.
At least I haven’t been as sick as The Wife. While I was conducting the interview, she stepped out of the house for the first time in seven days to buy a Daily Gazette down the street at Stewart’s. I came home to find her crabby and argumentative, which is a clear indication that her vital signs are returning to normal. Thus, she was able to post this article for me.
Here below is the entire audio interview broken up into four parts, with a quick summary. Each part is approximately 30 minutes long. Phil Steck is ready willing and able to tackle the issues, big and small. Take a listen at your convenience.
Phil Steck Audio Interview
In four parts of approximately 30 minutes apiece
Introduction - family, home and origins - very busy schedule -fired lesbian - ready for the pace of Congress? - ready for one job - grassroots work - pensions and pension law reform - unintended consequences - 21st district rural areas - agricultural policy - insurance coverage for farms - natural, organic food and bad milk - reforming milk price supports - city and suburb - federal policy favoring suburbanization - Colonie’s deficit - redevelopment of urban areas - cost of health insurance impacts urban areas
Click here for Part One (mp3 format)
Ideal Health Plan - Medicare for all - Albany County property tax and Medicaid - saving money with health care - business costs of health care - doctors want single payer - ideology prevents adoption - Walmart and Medicaid - Albany County now a self insurer - other municipalities can join - combined benefits from various carriers - Obama and Clinton plans not effective - single payer gives freedom - single payer not socialized medicine - constituent service - need for staff - grassroots background applied - local endorsements indicate access - it’s not about celebrity
Click here for Part Two (mp3 format)
Standing Up To Be Counted - Albany County antiwar resolution - persuasion - proper withdrawal process - proper legislative process - bringing home military bacon - Watervliet Arsenal - current problem Iran - support democracy - closing military bases overseas - Osama bin Laden - philosophy of Iraq invasion was wrong - global warming - his Prius - solar and wind in upstate New York - sound investment conditions - Amsterdam wants policy changes - development in Colonie - tax base vs. deficit -
Click here for Part Three (mp3 format)
New Day In Government - HR-676 - holding Democrats to same standard - value of being a prosecutor - poor, immigrants suffer most from crimes - drug war - draconian federal sentencing guidelines - Soares campaign - focus on drug crimes - who to prosecute for drugs - marijuana, medical and decriminalized - gangs and drugs - the stamp of approval - public transit and the poor - we need more public transit - war must end to release funds - The Wife likes bicycles - electric cars and battery technology - unsuccessful administration allows progress
Click here for Part Four (mp3 format)
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