Stefanik challengers meet, speak

The seven congressional candidates who took part in a Thursday evening candidate forum at SUNY Adirondack are pictured, from left: Democrat Don Boyajian, Democrat Tedra Cobb, Republican Russ Finley, Democrat Ronald Kim, Democrat Emily Martz, Democrat Patrick Nelson and Democrat Katie Wilson. (Enterprise photo/Antonio Olivero)

QUEENSBURY — After weeks and months of campaign announcements, seven challengers who seek to defeat U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik finally met and spoke at the first major candidates forum of the 2018 campaign.

In front of more than 160 people at SUNY Adirondack, one by one each of the six Democrats and one Republican addressed the crowd for three-to-five minute stretches while answering three straightforward questions.

These prompts included the candidates explaining their connection to the 21st Congressional District, what issues are most important to the district and how they’d describe the “people and values of the 21st Congressional District.”

Early in a campaign, several candidates touched on a major variable in the race as next June’s primary draws nearer: How will certain candidates distinguish themselves and emerge from the pack?

“I think that if you sat all of us down — maybe with the exception of [Republican] Mr. [Russell] Finley, here, and asked us to vote on all of the issues most important to you, we’d probably all vote the same way,” said Democrat Katie Wilson of Keene. “We may have different opinions on how to get from A to B. We may have differing opinions about really minute policy decisions. But, by and large, we all want the same things.”

Wilson was referencing herself and the five other Democratic candidates on stage who joined Finley, but the seven of them weren’t the only candidates with literature at the event as Libertarian candidate Christopher Schmidt also shared information.

According to Citizens Acting Together, the event organizers, Stefanik declined an invitation to attend the forum. You can watch a video replay of the event at

∫ Don Boyajian, Democrat, Cambridge

The Saratoga environmental and town attorney stressed that he feels the North Country needs a vision for its future. He emphasized as a representative that he’d be focused on legislation that he could have an effect on as a freshman lawmaker, such as investments in infrastructure projects such as transportation, broadband and water systems.

He also lamented the exodus of young people from the region and said he would focus on ways to keep young people and their talents here, such as expanding federal student loan forgiveness programs. He also said there needs to be more regulation of the pharmaceutical industry.

∫ Tedra Cobb, Democrat, Canton

The former St. Lawrence County legislator began her responses by saying that during a time of disaster relief due to Hurricane Harvey, threats from North Korea and neo-Nazis hosting events, it’s time for the North Country’s representative to stand up for their values at home and in Congress, something she said Stefanik is not doing.

Cobb said the biggest issue in the North Country to her is that people are divided and refusing to work together or listen to others. She was critical of Stefanik for not hosting town halls and promised she would.

Cobb said the one word she’d use to describe the district and its people would be “resilient.” She stressed that the district needs to leverage the different parts of itself, in part through coalitions.

∫ Russ Finley, Republican, Lisbon

To begin his first response, Finley walked a few rows deep into the crowd to illustrate that he feels the biggest issue facing North Country voters is that they “put politicians on a pedestal.”

Finley stressed that as a longtime farmer here in the North Country he wants the same things as more liberal constituents in attendance, though he may desire different means and ways to get there. Finley made it clear he believes in less government and had concerns over taxation and regulation — both in Washington D.C. and in Albany — which he emphasized was also an obstacle for the North Country.

Finley went on to describe a representative as an “offensive lineman” for the constituents, taking in knowledge from others and facilitating the transfer of information to them.

∫ Ron Kim, Democrat, Glens Falls

Kim, who announced his candidacy just days prior, was highly critical of Stefanik’s handling of the American Health Care Act vote, saying she “disqualified” herself from serving due to her handling of the vote.

He also explained certain freedoms he believes people have such as: the freedom to live, the freedom to be able to work for a decent livable wage, the freedom to learn and the freedom to dream.

Kim said he wouldn’t take any special interest donations for his election, said he has supported a single-payer healthcare system for years, said he’d like to see better regulation of the financial industry and wants to see a new civil rights bill pass to further protect minority groups such as the LGBTQ community.

∫ Emily Martz, Democrat, Saranac Lake

Martz began her remarks by saying she feels the district has “become a political pawn” at the national level under Stefanik. She emphasized that she feels identifying new progressive markets, such as solar energy, to create sustainable jobs and grow small business is the most important issue in the North Country.

She also said the widening wealth gap in the district concerns her, as does improving the area’s economy while also embracing environmentally progressive principles. And on health care, Martz said it’s become a problem in this country that too many people “are choosing between bankruptcy and going to the doctor.”

∫ Patrick Nelson, Democrat, Stillwater

Nelson rattled off several current pieces of legislation during one of his responses where he spoke about “five issues in five minutes.”

With the environment, he said it has become a fundamental issue of survival and said a massive transfer of our energy systems from fossil fuels to renewables — “the size and scale of World War II,” — is necessary.

In his response, he also said we need to address the opioid crisis as the health epidemic it is, that we need to help veterans with a Veterans Affairs hospital within the district and that he’d like to bring a student loan forgiveness program for entrepreneurs starting their own business here to the district.

∫ Katie Wilson, Democrat, Keene

Wilson highlighted her lifelong ties to the district, having run several local businesses. She singled out increased broadband in the region as a top priority. She also said she’d support microlending and a graduated tax to help area small businesses while also transitioning the burden of health care from them.

As for a single-payer system, Wilson said she’d like to get there incrementally.

“People don’t like big change all at once,” she said.

She brought up health education in schools and the expansion of farm-to-school programs to other places such as hospitals and prisons as ways to improve the lives of locals.

By Patricia Older

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