Castelli touts ‘country-over-party’ message at town hall in Amsterdam


Matt Castelli, D-Glens Falls, speaks at a town hall event at the Horace J. Inman Center in Amsterdam on on Aug. 11.

AMSTERDAM — Matt Castelli, D-Glens Falls, shared three things he would do if elected to the U.S. House of Representatives this November at a town hall Thursday night at the Horace J. Inman Center in Amsterdam.

The candidate in the Democratic primary for New York’s 21st Congressional District told those in attendance that, if he’s elected, he intends to vote against Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker, vote in favor of a federal law reinstating the rights women lost when Roe v. Wade was overturned, and vote in favor of congressional term limits, which he thinks should be capped at eight years total.

“There’s some synergy there, if we had that in place right now, Congresswoman Stefanik would not be up for reelection,” Castelli quipped when answering questions about his term-limit position.

The winner of the Aug. 23 Democratic primary between Castelli and lawyer Matthew Putorti, D-Whitehall, will face incumbent U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, currently serving her eighth year in the House for the 21st District. Stefanik also serves as the Republican Conference Chair, the third-ranking GOP leader in the House.

Castelli, a former CIA officer who served as director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council, has actually already obtained a spot on the November ballot, whether he wins the upcoming primary or not, through his independent party line called the “Moderate Party.”

“Between the Democratic Party line and the Moderate Party line, we collected 11,000 signatures from voters all across this district, the same number of signatures Congresswoman Stefanik collected for the Republican Party and the Conservative Party lines — we’re going toe-to-toe with her,” Castelli said. “The Moderate Party is really a great opportunity for us to really build this country-before-party coalition that we’re seeking. This campaign isn’t just about Democrats and Republicans, in this district 30% of registered voters are unaffiliated or independents.”

Castelli offered no critique of his primary opponent Putorti during the event, which about 40 people attending.

He offered most of his contrasts with Stefanik. He said he intends to change any voter perceptions regarding Democrats as being weaker than Republicans by pointing to his record of service fighting extremism both in the form of international terrorism and the growing extremism he says he sees here in the U.S.

Castelli said a perfect contrast between himself and Stefanik can be found in her decision to vote against the U.S. CHIPS and Science Act, which passed with bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, even though Stefanik had previously co-sponsored a bill with some similar features. The bill channels billions in federal spending and tax breaks toward helping semiconductor chip plants to open and operate in the U.S.

“This [U.S. CHIPS and Science Act] is a tremendous investment that not only helps create good jobs here in upstate New York,” he said. “We have seen over decades American competitiveness erode over time with those jobs going overseas to China and other areas of Asia. What we’ve seen right now, as a byproduct of the pandemic, is one of the reasons why inflation is so high for certain goods is that we don’t have the chips to put in them. So, this is also an opportunity for us to reduce costs, so it’s a direct opportunity to make America competitive with China, create good paying jobs here and reduce inflation. What’s not to like about that?”

Although there is language in the U.S. CHIPS and Science Act prohibiting companies that receive funding from the bill from providing the Chinese or Russian governments with advanced microchips, Stefanik criticized the bill as weakening “guardrails” in her original version of the bill against taxpayer dollars flowing to China. She criticized the spending of $287 billion in the bill as inflationary.

One area Stefanik and Castelli may agree is some of former president Trump’s trade tariffs, which, so far, have been left in place by President Biden’s administration. Stefanik often split on the issue of tariffs with Trump calling them taxes on the American people and bad for New York state’s farmers.

Castelli said the U.S. should be seeking to lower trade tariffs with respect to agricultural products produced by U.S. farmers, but should evaluate on a case-by-case basis the elimination of Trump tariffs on manufactured goods coming out of China.

During the question and answer period of the town hall, Montgomery County District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell, a Democrat, spoke and praised Castelli, a former registered Independent, for emphasizing his commitment to being a moderate as well as Democrat.

“It’s really refreshing to see someone running for elected office not be up there screaming at us, trying to influence us with theatrics,” Purtell said. “I like the fact that you’re a moderate, and you have an open mind and you’re not just focusing on party.”

Amsterdam resident Christopher Carpenter, the vice chair of the city’s Democratic Committee, said he believes Castelli is similar to Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, a former Republican, who has been willing to challenge his party’s leadership in the past.

Castelli said he has obtained the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, the last Democrat to represent a previous version of what has become the sprawling 15-county 21st Congressional District. He said he’s also received the endorsement of the New York State United Teachers.

Castelli said, if he wins the Democratic Party primary, he intends to challenge Stefanik to as many debates as possible. He said she has agreed to debates with her opponents in the past, so he expects she will agree to debate him, and he looks forward to debating with her.

Early voting for the Democratic primary begins on Saturday and runs through Aug. 21.

By Jason Subik

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