View the full debate in the video player below.

KENMORE, N.Y. (WIVB) — The annual political debate at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute was held Thursday and featured Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Republican challenger Chrissy Casilio.

The debate covered a wide variety of topics, ranging from blizzard response, the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot and more. Each candidate was given the opportunity to answer and rebuttal.

Winter weather response

Casilio stated that the response to the deadly 2022 blizzard was so bad that she is surprised that Poloncarz decided to run for re-election.

“The bottom line was we had failed leadership,” Casilio said. “Our leadership was more concerned about not ruining the Christmas holiday and, as a result, we had people die.”

Casilio said that the National Guard should have been dispatched to the county earlier and a proper plan should have been in place prior to the storm, including putting a driving ban in place sooner.

Poloncarz, in rebuttal to Casilio’s comments, stated that he issued a state of emergency the night before the storm and a driving ban was implemented the morning after. He said the driving ban was implemented later so that “thousands” of third shift workers would have the opportunity to make it home.

“This was the worst storm of my lifetime,” Poloncarz said. “I lived through the blizzard of ’77, which is always considered the worst storm ever. While that was longer, this [blizzard ’22] was a more horrific storm. We received information from the weather service that this was going to be a ‘once in a generation storm,’ but we weren’t told that this was going to be a life threatening storm.”

Influx of migrants in New York

In recent months, an influx of migrants have come to New York State and in response, migrants have been sent to Erie County from New York City due to available resources.

Migrants first arrived in Erie County in June 2023 and have since been housed in hotels throughout the county. Despite multiple WNY counties issuing state of emergencies, which does not allow migrants to be transported and housed in the counties, Poloncarz did not.

Poloncarz stated in the past that he would not be issuing a state of emergency due to it being “morally repugnant.” On average, he said that 2,000 immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers come to Erie County without issue.

In August, Poloncarz stated that no more asylum seekers would be sent to Erie County following a number of arrests and allegations of crime were reported. As of October, 13 asylum seekers have been arrested in the county.

“We had two bad incidences and those individuals need to be held responsible under the law for the crimes they may have committed,” Poloncarz said Thursday. “Because remember, they’re innocent until proven guilty. But since then, things have worked well and we are creating a better community for all and giving those individuals an opportunity for a better future.”

In rebuttal, Casilio said that is was morally repugnant that it was initially stated that the influx of migrants would not cost Erie County taxpayer dollars.

“To this day, we still don’t know exactly who is here, were they’re from and what the plan is,” said Casilio. “In the meantime, our schools are having to deal with the increase of costs, there are major language barriers, there’s an increase in crime, and there is no plan and no transparency from this county executive on how we’re going to solve this situation.”

Jan. 6 Capitol Riot

Following the 2020 presidential election, former President Donald Trump supporter’s stormed the U.S. Capitol, leading to $30 million in damages and hundreds of protesters prosecuted.

In a social media post which has since been deleted, Casilio commented on wanting to be present and stating Joe Biden will not be president. Thursday, Casilio stated that the dates on the post were from November 2020, prior to the 2021 Capitol riot and that she does not support the violence of that ensued.

“I absolutely condemn those actions,” said Casilio. “No. I do not wish I was there. If you look at the dates, I never said I wished I was there at Jan. 6. There is a fine difference, but what is happening is those words are being misconstrued and my opponent loves Jan. 6 because he’s able to talk about it all day, everyday as a way to distract from his failed leadership.”

“[I] certainly don’t love Jan. 6,” Poloncarz said in rebuttal. “It was one of the worst days in the history of our country.”

Poloncarz continued on to say that following the events, Casilio referenced the rioters as not being the “bad guys” in another tweet.

The tweet has since been deleted.

“There’s a reason why she deleted her account,” Poloncarz said. “She didn’t want anyone to see the extreme nature of her tweets.”

Poloncarz and Casilio will next debate on News 4 on Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m.

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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

Emily Miller is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2022. See more of her work here.