NIAGARA FALLS – Two candidates who have never appeared on the ballot in Niagara County tried to win votes Tuesday in a candidates’ forum in the Niagara Falls Public Library.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, is running for his fifth term against Michael H. Madigan, a Republican businessman and Tea Party member from Grand Island, to represent the newly drawn 26th Congressional District.

The first question at the forum concerned how much interest the winner actually would have in Niagara Falls, since both candidates are from Erie County.

Madigan said, “I’ve been going door to door and meeting with my future constituents in this city. I’m not ignoring it.” He promised to hold town hall meetings, which he says Higgins doesn’t do.

“I have been in Niagara Falls quite frequently, meeting with business leaders,” Higgins said. “I can’t wait to get my hands on this waterfront right here in Niagara Falls … We’re already formulating plans to make this city realize its full potential.”

Questioned after the debate, Higgins pointed to Third Street as an example of what Niagara Falls can be.

He said its “cool restaurants and wine bars” should be promoted across the border.

Madigan said improving education is his top priority, because high crime and poor education systems go hand in hand in inner cities.

“It’s a civil rights issue. Right now, public education is a pipeline to prison,” Madigan said. “For my opponent, it’s the waterfront. It’s great, but I have something that’s more important.”

Higgins said, “I believe the strongest America is one we invest in: in education, scientific research and infrastructure … There are other countries that invest more in education that we need to keep pace with.”

He said Japan and Europe tried austerity in recent years and succeeded only in lengthening their recessions. He cited China as a more positive example.

“What they’re doing is what we ought to be doing, investing in our own economy,” Higgins said. “We need to do nation-building at home.”

“We’re spending our children’s money,” Madigan said. “We’re leaving a country that will not have the same opportunity we had when we were born and raised … We’re being irresponsible.”

Madigan said the cost of President Obama’s health care plan makes it “a monumental weight” on our businesses. He said many jobs will be cut from full time to part time as employers try to avoid paying for mandatory coverage.

He said the role of government “should be limited to what the Constitution of the United States defines.”

Higgins said the individual mandate, the requirement to buy health insurance or pay a fine, eliminates “free riders.”

He said America ranks low among developed nations in many measures of health care, including 41st in infant mortality and 50th in life expectancy.