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Fact check: Did Colleen Deacon, as GOP suggests, flip-flop on Interstate 81 position?

July 6, 2016 GMT

As expected, Republicans aren’t giving Democratic candidate Colleen Deacon a warm welcome to the 24th Congressional District race.

After Deacon, D-Syracuse, won the Democratic primary last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee criticized her for accepting donations from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Now they’re taking another swipe at Deacon, who is challenging U.S. Rep. John Katko, for her position on the Interstate 81 viaduct project in Syracuse.

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On Wednesday, the NRCC accused Deacon of flip-flopping on whether she thinks the elevated portion of I-81 should be replaced with a boulevard.

The claim is based on Deacon’s comments at two forums one week before the primary.

At the Time Warner Cable News debate on June 20, the candidates were asked during a “lightning round” whether they support replacing the I-81 viaduct with a boulevard.

The question went to Deacon first.

“It depends on what the analysis tells us,” she said before being interrupted by the moderators, who reminded her that it was a yes or no question.

After pausing for a moment, Deacon answered yes.

The next day, Deacon participated in a forum sponsored by the Central New York Alliance for Retired Americans, League of Women Voters and the New York State United Teachers Retiree Council 7. The I-81 topic came up again and this time, Deacon was allowed to provide a more thorough response.

She didn’t come out in support of any of the proposals to replace the viaduct — rebuilding the elevated portion of the highway and a tunnel option are among other ideas being considered — but does think the boulevard is a “great option.”

Here’s a portion of her response to the question:

“We have an opportunity right now to re-envision and rethink this community, but I think there’s a number of options right now on the table and we can’t actually make a decision until we have all the analysis and the data completed to decide what is best for this community. I know that the draft IES (sic) will be due in December and there will be another public comment period on that. But until we decide how this is going to affect our street grids and affect our community, I don’t think we have all the information available to us to make the decision.”

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Later she added, “We have to be bold. We have to be visionary. This decision has to be from the bottom up.”

Chris Pack, a spokesman for the NRCC, slammed Deacon for what the GOP considers a flip-flop on the I-81 issue.

“Colleen Deacon either has no idea what she is talking about regarding the future of Interstate 81 or she’s simply pandering to voters,” Pack said. “If Deacon is willing to so quickly change her position on Interstate 81, what else is she willing to change her position on?”

It’s not the first time Deacon has been accused of changing her position on the I-81 project. One of her Democratic primary foes, Steve Williams, noted at the June 21 forum that Deacon gave a different response at the Time Warner Cable News debate.

But has Deacon changed her position? Is she guilty of flip-flopping, as the Republicans suggest?

It’s not as clear as it may seem.

On the surface, Deacon appears to have flip-flopped — if you’re only looking at her “yes” response at the Time Warner Cable News debate and then her comments at the forum held one day later.

But there’s a big difference between how the questions were presented at the two debates. At the June 21 forum, she was given time to answer a question about a major project affecting Syracuse and all of central New York. At the Time Warner Cable News debate, she was forced to answer yes or no during the lightning round.

The lightning round response aside, Deacon’s I-81 position has been consistent. What she said at the June 21 forum has been her stance. She doesn’t favor any option over the other.

In fact, her position is similar to what Katko, R-Camillus, has repeatedly said about the I-81 project. At least publicly, he hasn’t come out in support of any of the proposals. But he has played a role in trying to move the project along at the federal level.

Debate moderators tend to back candidates into a corner with some of these lightning round questions. It’s one thing to ask whether a candidate has attended a concert at the new Lakeview Amphitheater. It’s another to demand a yes or no answer to a question about a complex project.

That’s not to say the moderators are at fault here. Deacon should’ve been more firm and more clear about her position. In her case, a yes or no response to this question doesn’t give voters an accurate representation of her view on the I-81 project. So don’t give a yes or no response, even if the format demands it.

CONCLUSION

Deacon gave Republicans fodder to attack her, but that doesn’t mean she’s flip-flopped on how the I-81 project should be dealt with. The Time Warner Cable debate question aside, her position has been consistent throughout the campaign.

On her campaign website, Deacon lists I-81 as an infrastructure priority. She pledged to ensure “we have adequate funding for the I-81 project, no matter the outcome of the planning process.” The website doesn’t say which proposal she supports or if she favors one at all.

Deacon will likely face further criticism from Republicans for her comments. The record, though, is clear. Aside from the lightning round response, her position has been the same.