By David Cederstrom, Chronicle Staff Writer
Eight Democrats seeking to unseat two-term Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, including five local candidates, addressed about 200 people at a three-hour congressional candidates forum at the Moreau Community Center on Sunday, Jan. 7.
It was organized by the group Citizens Acting Together 21 (CAT21)
To the audience’s applause, many comments focused on the stated need to defeat Ms. Stefanik and how to accomplish that.
Organizers said Ms. Stefanik was invited but did not respond.
Also not present was Republican challenger Russell Finley of St. Lawrence County, who said he could not attend because his mother was having an operation.
The local candidates included Sara Idleman of Greenwich, Tanya Boone of Granville, Don Boyajian of Cambridge, Ronald Kim of Queensbury, and Patrick Nelson of Stillwater.
The other participants were Tedra Cobb of Canton, Emily Martz of Saranac Lake, and Katie Wilson of Keene.
Organizers said 176 audience members voted when asked afterward to name their top three candidates. Ms. Cobb was named by 23%; Mr. Nelson, 17%; Ms. Martz, 14%; Ms. Boone, 12%; Mr. Kim, 10%; Mr. Boyajian, 9%; Ms. Idleman, 7%; Ms. Wilson, 7%; and 1% named Mr. Finley.
Tedra Cobb, one of the more fired up speakers, said, “My mission is to win. My mission is to get rid of Elise Stefanik, who does not care about this district.”
She said she has nine adopted siblings, “and that informs who I am…in terms of my commitment to community service and to compassion.”
Ms. Cobb said she owns a consulting business helping businesses grow, and has served as a St. Lawrence County legislator
She said she has worked in the state prison system, and “when I see the President cutting the HIV and AIDS advisory board, I remember the days of giving people HIV test results and that was a death sentence….We cannot go back.”
She said she also ran a community health agency, and has seen what happens when people have no health insurance. “We need health care for everyone.”
Patrick Nelson, also one of the more fired up speakers, said, “Our government no longer works for those of us who don’t have a Swiss bank account and cannot afford the $2,700 entry fee to get the attention of a member of Congress.”
Mr. Nelson’s website says he was on the dean’s list at the St. John’s University School of Law, worked on several political campaigns including Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid and Mike Derrick’s bid to unseat Ms. Stefanik two years ago, and worked as special projects coordinator for state Assemblyman Phil Steck.
He said voters are “sick and tired of being pandered to and strategized about instead of being listened to.”
Decrying the influence of corporate money and lobbyists in politics, Mr. Nelson pledged that he will not accept any corporate political action committee (PAC) money, and challenged all the candidates to do likewise. PAC contributions from labor unions or groups such as Planned Parenthood are acceptable, he said.
Referring to the recently passed Republican tax cut bill, Mr. Nelson said, “The wealthy and the powerful have just stole another $1.5-trillion from my generation.”
Emily Martz said, “I’m tired of treating the symptoms. It’s time to treat the problem. The ever-widening wealth gap in our country is making it nearly impossible for hard-working families to get ahead. It’s destabilizing our society, and it’s destabilizing our democracy.”
Ms. Martz said she has 20 years of economic development experience. “I’ve done business. I’ve taught business and economics to students at Paul Smith’s College and Clarkson. I’ve helped businesses around our region expand, including Apex Solar right here in Warren County.”
She said her goals include making sure “everybody has access to affordable, quality healthcare, and yes, I do mean universal healthcare.”
Tanya Boone said she’s a Granville native and an owner, with other family members, of Hilltop Slate in Granville.
A former SEIU union organizer, she said, “I believe that hard-working people in our district and across our country have gotten a raw deal for the last 40 years.”
She said her grandfathers were able to make a decent living, but now she has a brother who works two full-time jobs plus odd jobs to make ends meet.
“He works harder for less….The rules of the economy have fundamentally changed…to favor the very wealthy,” she said. “A perfect example of this is the tax bill that was just passed.”
Ms. Boone said President Trump points to the stock market and corporate profits doing well, but “those numbers do not translate to working people’s paychecks.”
She said investment in infrastructure, including rural broadband, along with education and healthcare, is needed.
Ronald Kim, a Glens Falls-raised attorney with his own law office, said, “You deserve a Congressperson who meets with you, who listens to you, and who fights for you.”
He said he has served as the executive director of the Environmental Federation of New York, as the Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Public Safety (winning election over the incumbent), and chaired the Saratoga Springs zoning board of appeals.
He said his work as an attorney has involved helping victims of sexual harassment. He said Congress needs to act to clarify law and lengthen the statute of limitations on the subject.
Don Boyajian said his grandfather came to the United States a century ago and “in many ways lived the American dream that used to be so much easier to obtain.”
He said, “We’ve all seen jobs leave, we’ve seen the exodus of young people….We must change that path. Upstate New York should be an economic hub.”
Mr. Boyajian said he has the experience, as a town attorney, as a legislative aide in Congress, and as someone who’s done environmental work in the Attorney General’s office and the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“Healthcare is a right, it’s not a privilege,” he said.
“Congress needs to get back to reinvesting in the foundation of the American economy,” in public education, job creation in the middle class, and science-based environmental stewardship.
He said that instead, Ms. Stefanik voted against allowing student loan forgiveness for people in agriculture and veterans service organizations, and voted “to allow mining companies to pollute our water supply.”
Sara Idleman, the town supervisor of Greenwich starting her fifth term, announced her candidacy to about 125 people at the Greenwich Elks Club on Jan. 6.
“Unlike some of the other people up here, I have lived my entire life” in Congressional District 21, Ms. Idleman said at the Jan. 7 forum. “I grew up on a dairy farm” still run by her brother and his family in Easton.
She said she taught school for 25 years and ran a small business for five years before selling it so she could help take care of her father.
She said she became the first woman ever on the Greenwich town board when she was elected town supervisor.
Ms. Idleman said she’s proven her electability in a majority Republican area, and her ability to work with an otherwise Republican town board and a mostly Republican county board. She noted that the percentages of Republicans and Democrats in Greenwich are the same as for the Congressional district.
Katie Wilson said, “Elise Stefanik is gonna run a campaign that’s long on lies and short on truth, and full of fluff….We are going to have to put someone up against her who can cut through all of that.”
Referring to herself, Ms. Wilson said, “Never underestimate the power and the strength of a single mom fighting for a better future for her children.”
She said, “Our families and our futures are under attack like they have never before. Our healthcare is threatened. Our livelihood is at risk, and our children’s future is in jeopardy.”
She said Democrats have twice challenged Ms. Stefanik with good, well-funded candidates, but lost twice.
“Let’s not make the same mistake” of putting up a candidate with “tenuous ties to the district. The people of New York 21 do not trust the one who slides into town on a pile of cash.”
Ms. Wilson said that in this “Me Too” moment, “women want more women in Congress, not less. Let’s not send a man in to do a woman’s job.”
Most of the candidates said their campaign fund-raising has primarily come from small donations ($200 or less) from within the Congressional district.
Ms. Wilson said she raised approximately $50,000 in her first quarter. She said she will start pursuing funds nationally.
Mr. Nelson said he has raised about $35,000, with an average donation of $28.
Ms. Martz did not mention a total.
Mr. Kim said he has raised about $20,000.
Ms. Idleman said 100% of her fundraising has come from within Washington County. She did not mention a total.
Ms. Cobb said she has raised $128,000 in the first quarter, with an average contribution of $180, and about $88,000 in the second quarter.
Mr. Boyajian said he raised about $210,000 in the first two months, and about the same in the second quarter.
Ms. Boone said she has connections around the country, so she expects her fundraising to be a mix. She did not mention a total.
All the candidates said they will support whoever the Democratic nominee turns out to be. They also all criticized the recently enacted tax cut.
All the candidates called for stricter gun control laws, although some said they acknowledge the right of law-abiding citizens to have guns.
CAT21 describes itself as a group of concerned citizens in the Greater Glens Falls area of Warren and Saratoga counties working to increase community involvement in the democratic process and raise awareness of relevant issues in New York’s Congressional District 21.
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