OPINION: Hey Buffalo, Here’s Who Claudia Tenney Is
Story by: Luke Radel
For listeners who don’t know me, my name is Luke Radel. Bill Keeler usually refers to me as “The Kid,” which just became inaccurate on a technicality – I turned 18 last week. That means I’ll be able to vote in the upcoming midterm elections, which is very exciting for me. (Thanks, 26th Amendment!) But my interest in politics started long before I was able to vote (or drive, or shave!).
At age 13, I started “Elected News,” an online show where I cover local and national politics. My goal is to get more people engaged in the political process, particularly my young peers who are either ineligible to vote or may be eligible to vote but are statistically in the least likely age bracket to do so. My goal in these pieces for WIBX is to do the same, but now for a much larger audience. (No pressure.)
For listeners who do know me, it may come as no surprise that for my first segment on "WIBX First News with Keeler in the Morning," I am going to be talking about Congresswoman Claudia Tenney. The congresswoman and I have a bit of history, including when she threatened to sue me after an appearance on the show. (Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again, especially now that I’m 18.)
Earlier this month, new congressional district lines were announced, changing the dimensions of Claudia Tenney’s current Congressional seat, NY-22. The state legislature stacked the district with Democrats. Before the ink on the new maps had dried, Ms. Tenney announced that she will be moving to a new district that would be much more favorable to her and includes much of the Southern Tier and the suburbs of Buffalo. No Democrats have announced yet that they’ll be running against Tenney in the deep-red district, but she has faced criticism for her decision from both sides of the aisle.
Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner said: “It’s difficult to see how someone from New Hartford, 190 miles away, will be able to understand and deliver for a district so used to hometown representation.”
Rochester-area radio host, Bob Lonsberry, a personal friend and supporter of Tenney, described her move as “a disgusting mix of opportunism and carpet-bagging” and added, “what the hell does she know about the… priorities of the Southern Tier?”
With friends like that, who needs an opponent?
So Claudia may not have been welcomed to the greater Buffalo area with open arms, but that hasn’t stopped her from trying to introduce herself. In fact, Claudia was featured on the front page of "The Buffalo News" next to the headline question: “Who is Claudia Tenney?”
Jerry Zremski, the Washington Bureau Chief for "The Buffalo News," describes Tenney in the article as “no Kumbaya congressperson.”
Zremski also writes that “Tenney isn’t quite Rep. Tom Reed, the retiring Corning Republican and former Problem Solvers Caucus chairman she’s aiming to replace.” Talk about an understatement! Claudia was unable to pass a single one of the bills she’d sponsored during her first term in Congress even though her party was in control of the House, Senate, and the Presidency. Instead of the Problem Solvers Caucus, Claudia could easily head up the Problem Starters Caucus with her provocative comments.
Ms. Tenney told Zremski “I consider myself to be common sense.” Let’s look at her record and see whether “common sense” comes to mind as an accurate assessment.
In the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, Claudia mused that “it’s interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats, but the media doesn’t talk about that.”
She has also accused Ray Halbritter, the leader of the Oneida Indian Nation, of misrepresenting his heritage and referred to him as “Spray Tan Ray,” comments the Nation considered “racist hate speech.”
Tenney regularly posts inflammatory comments on her popular personal Twitter profile for her nearly 80,000 followers – but when asked about the posts on her account, she told Zremski that “I’m not intentionally trying to be provocative. Sometimes the truth is provocative, right?”
Here’s a sampling of some Tenney tweets - as you listen to them, you might ask what her intentions were, if not to be intentionally provocative
“If Joe Biden had been our President during World War II, I’d probably be writing this tweet in German right now” “Pro tip: if you ever want to trigger the leftists, just put ‘Christmas’ in a sentence” “Joe Biden isn’t following the Constitution, he’s following the Communist Manifesto.”
She saves the most “colorful” comments for her tweet replies. Tenney will often comb through the people commenting on her tweets, typically with a focus on negative messages from constituents, and will spend time “clapping back” at those people.
When one of her detractors tauntingly pointed out that 200,000 people had died from the Coronavirus under former President Donald Trump, Claudia injected some of her trademark “common sense” into the conversation.
She wrote, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 death toll, “getting tired of this Democratic talking point. I believe the CDC said that 6% actually died of Covid, the rest of other causes. No?” (She subsequently deleted the tweet.)
Obviously this statement is not true. You probably would have read that tweet without me telling you it was untrue and would think to yourself “huh, I don’t think the CDC actually said that.” In fact, six weeks before Tenney’s tweet, Dr. Anthony Fauci and the CDC itself disputed the fake 6% quote. And days after she tweeted out the debunked conspiracy theory, which had its origins on far-right QAnon forums, Tenney came on the Keeler show and acknowledged that what she’d written in her tweet was “not what [the] CDC said,” before immediately backtracking and repeating the same falsehood about the death toll being inflated. Maybe she just didn’t care that this story was fake news because it fit her narrative.
Whatever the reason is behind the statement, Tenney has a clear record of making these kinds of upsetting and attention-grabbing comments whenever she’s backed into a corner. In her interview after the Parkland school shooting, she’s didn’t claim many mass murders are committed by Democrats because she actually knew that to be true or that it was a pertinent argument, because it is neither. The same is true when she dismissed the COVID death toll as merely “a Democratic talking point.” By my estimation, she is saying these things because she is looking to deflect from the issues at hand, whether it’s gun control in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting or President Trump’s handling of the pandemic. She’s repeatedly demonstrated that, for her, no partisan point is out of bounds, no matter the scope and scale of the tragedy she’s discussing. In Tenney’s mind, the cutting comeback trumps all. (Pun intended.) Facts, decency, and dignity are an afterthought.
Tenney likely believes she can make these comments without being held accountable. But it is the responsibility of Jerry Zremski, "The Buffalo News," other journalists in her new district, and those in her current one (because don’t forget, Claudia is still our Congresswoman for another ten months) to do the difficult work of calling Tenney out on her statements and ask her tough questions to keep viewers accurately informed. Simply giving Tenney a front page piece on your massive platform with minimal pushback or contextualization of her statements is not enough. And for the people of her new district, I hope my article has answered the headline question from "The Buffalo News:" “Who is Claudia Tenney?” But ultimately, it’ll be up to you whether the answer to that question is “your Congresswoman.”
Luke Radel is the Creator and Host of Elected News, an online show that covers local and national politics. Luke founded Elected in 2017 and has since encountered numerous government and media figures, including members of Congress, Senators, and the two most recent Presidents. Luke has been praised by the (Utica-Rome) "The Sentinel" for his takes on politics being “bipartisan and uncompromising” and his questions to politicians having “the precision and impact of a guided missile.” Luke has been supported by his parents and two younger brothers, Mark and John Paul. He is currently a senior at New Hartford Senior High School.
Follow Luke on Twitter/Instagram: @lukeradel
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This post is an opinion piece. The opinions expressed by Luke Radel do not reflect the opinions of WIBX or Townsquare Media.]