The Daily News
October 11, 2016
BATAVIA — Hours before another round of destabilizing presidential campaign surprises hit nationally, Diana Kastenbaum saw her own run for office as finally coalescing and coming into focus.
The CEO of Pinnacle Manufacturing Co., a Harvester Avenue tool and die-casting business, is running as a Democrat for a 27th Congressional District centered around Batavia in the rural areas outside of Buffalo and Rochester. Like many races this year, her run against Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, has been in the shadows of the larger battle for control of the White House, Senate and a long-shot turnover in the House of Representatives.
Kastenbaum attributed the slow pace of the campaign to the series of primaries that focused attention to the Presidential race and Erie County’s district attorney among others. Hers was in June. With a month to go until the election, she said that the primaries are finally out of everyone’s system and it has made a difference.
“It’s been a real groundswell,” Kastenbaum said Friday to The Daily News.
“I’m known in the GLOW region, especially now since all the stumping this summer and spring. People have good name recognition (with me),” Kastenbaum said. “The focus has to really be on this last month on getting out the vote, canvassing and phone banking.”
Her interview, which can be viewed in its entirety at TheDailyNewsOnline.com, discussed her ambitions, level of support for Hillary Clinton, and why trade and manufacturing are her priorities.
Kastenbaum, an Alexander High School alumna, has appeared on the ballot only once before. Her fifth-place finish in a nine-candidate field for three at-large City Council seats in 2013 came a year after she returned to her hometown from California. While out west, her husband Hiram performed as an actor and comedian and Kastenbaum worked in launching grassroots-level campaigns in reaction to post-Citizens United political spending and sweeping Voted ID laws.
“I tend to go to causes that I truly believe in. It’s because I want to see democracy work,” Kastenbaum said. “Why should we all not have the right to vote? Why should big money have a role in politics?”
As a candidate, Kastenbaum has not benefited from large spending — the Federal Elections Commission’s latest report had her campaign at $130,575 in receipts. Aside from a series of parties hosted by Dr. Arnold Matlin of Geneseo to connect her with supporters, volunteers and donors, Kastenbaum said her work has been spent traveling a district that spans from Canandaigua to Lewiston to introduce herself.
Kastenbaum campaigns with her father, Henry Kisiel, 91, a World War II veteran who uses the Batavia VA hospital and veterans benefits. She sees funding for veterans as one of the largest changes she’d bring to Congress, citing a budget Collins supported that increased funding for services, but at $1.4 billion less than requested.
“How can we say to veterans that we’ll cut the red tape, to get you services, and then not vote for the funding required for them,” Kastenbaum said, noting her classmates who died and returned injured from Vietnam. “It has to come down to funding; when you cut that, you’ve cut services.”
On business, Kastenbaum said her differences with Collins are more about perspectives between owning large corporations and family businesses than politics.
Kastenbaum said she opposed the Trans Pacific Partnership and other international trade agreements for prioritizing large, multi-national interests over small businesses; and supports manufacturing through increased technology, with the development of Solar City in Buffalo as an ideal.
“Manufacturing is extremely important in our region. We’ve seen a lot of jobs (leave) since NAFTA ... in our own community, in our own business, we’ve lost several jobs to China. I’m hoping to bring them back. Can we bring them back in terms of the wages? I don’t think that we can, the wages are much lower there ...
“But we can bring them back in investing in technology, making a good quality product? We’ve seen jobs come back to our shop because holes were drilled wrong, not the correct measurements. If you build a better mousetrap, you can compete here.”
While her opponent has been a frequently visible supporter of Donald Trump, even before Trump secured the Republican nomination, Kastenbaum said she is not less inclined toward her party’s platform and standard-bearer.
“I’m a Democrat and I support President ...” Kastenbaum said, catching herself, “... Senator, Secretary Clinton. I think she’d be a wonderful, well-qualified president. The two sides I see in this election, both are very polarized and people need to pick a side. ... It’s a critical election, and I feel my candidate is much better qualified and the top of our ticket here, with Senator Schumer, who could be the majority leader, will move this country forward.”
She cast her relative lack of screen time as a surrogate as a difference in ambition. Collins, she said, is looking beyond Congress to a post in a Trump administration. It ends here for her.
“I have no further ambition, this is not a stepping stone to some other job in government,” Kastenbaum said.
Kastenbaum defended her viability as a candidate in a district that was won narrowly by Collins in 2012 before he won by 40 percent of the vote in 2014. She believes she can compete on many issues and her personal appeal has won over voters.
If elected, Kastenbaum said she intends to avoid being a polarized legislator.
“You have to be able to adjust, to be flexible, and you have to be able to understand the other side of the issue,” Kastenbaum said. “And somehow, when you get in Congress, you have to meet in the middle, to not be the far right and the far left. I’m prepared to work, even in a Republican Congress if need be. I’m hoping that’s not so, but I’m more than wiling to work and meet them halfway. That’s what we need in our representative, it can’t be so vitriolic in the rhetoric.
“I want to see us move forward. The opposite of progressive is regressive. Who wants to move our country back to (a time) when many people in our country suffered tremendously?” she said, recalling growing up “on the south side of the tracks” of the city. “You didn’t dare cross those tracks sometimes. And it was our community. Would I want to go back to that? No, I want to see us embrace our neighbors and do what’s right for community.”