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Owens, Doheny say their private-sector experience will help


For all the disparate tasks the position entails, the race for the House of Representatives seat in the north country comes down to a relatively simple question: Which candidate is better equipped to bring jobs to the area?

In the past six months, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Matthew A. Doheny, a Republican of Watertown, have pleaded their cases, pointing to their experience prior to running for Congress. And according to people who worked with both men in the private sector, the north country would be well served by both.

But ask the candidates themselves, and they’ll tell you there will be a stark choice when voters go to the polls Tuesday.

Mr. Owens, a Brooklyn native, has been in the north country since 1977, when he was stationed at Plattsburgh Air Force Base. He was a judge advocate general attorney.

After leaving the Air Force, he joined a private practice. Even though he practiced law until his election to Congress in 2009, Mr. Owens considers himself a businessman. His clients at Stafford, Owens, Curtin & Trombley were businesses, large and small, he said. And he was in charge of the day-to-day operations at his firm, which had 11 to 28 employees during his time there.

“I ran the firm for 25 years,” Mr. Owens said. “I was responsible for making the payroll. I made hiring and firing decisions, worried about contracts, made sure we had light bulbs and toilet paper. If you’re talking about who had hands-on experience (in business), I clearly do.”

He also was part of a team of economic development organizers that, over 25 years, helped persuade Canadian companies to come to the United States. In each of his campaigns, he has said his work resulted in bringing 2,000 jobs to the north country.

Mr. Owens declined to provide a list of companies he helped persuade to come, citing privacy concerns about business deals. Typically, the businesses that relocated to the United States as a result of the team’s efforts would become customers of the team, which consisted of accountants, insurance and real estate professionals and a banker. Mr. Owens was the team’s legal expert. He said he was a part of Bombardier Inc.’s decision to open a plant in Plattsburgh in 1995. That company is publicly traded.

Roderic G. Giltz, another former team member, said he could not quantify the 2,000 jobs claim, but that it sounded right.

“Bill, from the beginning, when he started into this, his mantra was jobs. That was before it became the popular thing to talk about,” said Mr. Giltz, an insurance agent. “I respect him not for the lawyer that he is, but for the dealmaker and the businessman he is.”

The team would put on “skits” at seminars in eastern Canada to demonstrate the problems and opportunities one might encounter while doing business in the United States, said Patrick K. Russell, a certified public accountant and fellow former team member.

Mr. Russell said the 2,000 jobs claim “probably” sounded right, but he was reluctant to name any companies in particular. Some of them are his clients now.

“We kept it up for a reason,” Mr. Russell said. “We were pretty successful with it.”

The program is now run through the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce.

Asked about Mr. Owens’s job-creation credentials, Mr. Doheny said it’s not the past 25 years that matter, but the past three. His campaign points to high unemployment figures in the congressional district. Jefferson County had an 8.8 percent jobless rate in September, Lewis County had an 8.5 percent unemployment rate and St. Lawrence County had a 9.5 percent unemployment rate.

Mr. Owens said he does not believe the criticism is fair.

“I think we were suffering a significant recession, brought on by the activities of Wall Street, primarily,” Mr. Owens said. “So if one wants to parse the blame, clearly someone who worked on Wall Street would have a big share of that.”

His mention of Wall Street was not a coincidence. Mr. Doheny worked for Wall Street financial firms for the better part of the 2000s, investing in companies that were saddled by heavy debt and mismanagement.

He cites his experience as his central qualification for office; his opponents cite it in arguing he should not be trusted.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent nearly $1 million on television ads making various claims about Mr. Doheny’s work history — claims Mr. Doheny said do not stand up.

For example, Adelphia Communications Corp. shed 500 workers as part of a restructuring Mr. Doheny led on behalf of Deutsche Bank Securities in the 2000s. But he is quick to note 13,000 Adelphia employees kept their jobs when the company was sold to Time Warner Cable. Mr. Doheny said he has saved tens of thousands of jobs by helping companies shed debt and fix mismanagement — the same problems he contends the nation faces.

“It certainly makes me qualified,” Mr. Doheny said. “That’s why we’ve got such terrific support.”

And Mr. Doheny said he was not involved in the decision to lay off workers.

Democrats have claimed Mr. Doheny gave millions in bonuses to top executives as part of the Adelphia deal, but the plan was approved by a bankruptcy judge, who said it was an important part of helping the company find a buyer, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Mr. Owens said Mr. Doheny is trying to take the good without the bad by saying he was not involved in decisions to lay off workers.

“That seems logically inconsistent to me,” Mr. Owens said. “‘I’m in charge, but only for the good things?’”

Mr. Doheny’s co-workers, past and present, said the Matt Doheny that Democrats have portrayed is not the Matt Doheny they know. Their commercials also present a distorted view of the world of financial portfolio management, they said.

“Although there are instances under a restructuring where people are replaced or let go to make a company viable, it’s almost always because otherwise, everyone will lose their job,” said Mark I. Bane, Mr. Doheny’s boss when he worked at the law firm Kelley, Drye & Warren in the 1990s.

Mr. Doheny received his law degree from Cornell University, Ithaca, and began working for law firms in Syracuse and New York City in the 1990s. By 2000, he was fully involved in financial management, leaving behind his law career. Mr. Bane was sorry to see him go.

Underlying the Democrats’ ads is a suggestion that Mr. Doheny is more Wall Street than Main Street — or, in his case, High Street. He grew up in a home on that road in Alexandria Bay. But according to Mr. Bane, Mr. Doheny always had a very specific goal.

“When Matt came to me at the beginning from upstate, he told me his goal was to make enough money to be able to afford to run for Congress to represent the north country constituency,” Mr. Bane said.

Mr. Doheny was a New York City resident for about a decade, but was living in the north country again by 2009. In 2011, after his first run for Congress encountered claims that he never created a job in upstate New York, he founded North Country Capital LLC, based on Washington Street in Watertown.

He reported earnings between $100,001 and $1 million in the first half of 2012 from North Country Capital, according to his campaign finance disclosures.

One of his clients is William C. Brod, owner of a Syracuse-area publishing company. In 2011, Mr. Brod needed money — and quickly — to buy assets that were about to be auctioned off. He wanted to start a company that printed promotional material on T-shirts and hats. But he couldn’t go through the traditional loan process of a bank.

He contacted Mr. Doheny, who looked at his business plan. In three days, Mr. Doheny decided to lend him the money to buy the materials. Spinnaker Custom Products now employs six people in the Syracuse area.

“I’ve just found him to be an exceptional business mind,” Mr. Brod said.

Keshav Lall, a co-worker of Mr. Doheny’s at Deustche Bank Securities from 2006 to 2008, said Mr. Doheny shunned fancy New York City restaurants in favor of pizza joints and expensive beers for Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Said Mr. Lall: “I see those ads, and I just think people are a bit misinformed about the way Matt thinks about the world.”

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