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Owens discusses politics, current issues after decision to step aside


William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, feels good about his decision to leave Congress at the end of 2014.

As for the “blowback” he has received?

“Fortunately, the vast majority has been pleasant and gentle,” he said.

Mr. Owens was in Watertown to sit in on the North Country Health Systems Redesign Commission.

In a frank discussion Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Owens gave his assessment of health care, infrastructure, economic development and the political scene in New York’s 21st Congressional District, a district he has represented since 2009.

When Mr. Owens retires from national politics at the end of his current term, he will be giving up the seniority and committee positions he has gained for the north country over the last five years.

“I understand that,” Mr. Owens said, before reiterating that his decision was motivated by a desire to spend more time with his family.

Most people have been sympathetic to his decision, he said.

Since making the announcement, Mr. Owens said, he has received calls from about six people interested in running for his seat, two of whom he considered “serious, electable people.”

The names of Dierdre K. Scozzafava, Mr. Owens’s 2009 Republican opponent, and former Congressman M. Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, have been widely circulated as potential successors.

“Those are the names that have been in the paper,” Mr. Owens said when asked if he was hearing the same speculation. “Dede and Scott are very viable candidates.”

Mr. Owens said that, while Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, also a Democrat, has yet to weigh in on the race, Ms. Scozzafava would likely receive the governor’s support.

Ms. Scozzafava works as deputy secretary of state for local government in Gov. Cuomo’s administration.

Mr. Owens said he would have little input on the selection of the Democratic candidate — that role will fall to the party’s county chairmen and women — though he expects to be involved with introducing the candidate to prospective voters.

In the meantime, Mr. Owens said, he is helping to advise the Health Systems Redesign Commission, focusing on two areas: working with small rural hospitals and designing systems that can effectively deliver medical services across Northern New York.

Mr. Owens spoke about potential innovations, such as an idea to set up clinics in local firehouses where emergency medical technicians work, the critical shortage of psychiatrists and Ph.D. psychologists in the north country and the need to train people in medical professions where job growth is expected to occur.

Mr. Owens said that he was optimistic that a deal to preserve jobs could be reached with Alcoa, which announced last week that it will permanently close two potlines at its Massena East plant, but that economic regeneration most likely will come from the region’s colleges.

He pointed to a state-funded partnership between Clarkson University, Potsdam, and Saranac Lake’s Trudeau Institute, which focuses on medical research, as an example of a model that could help grow and diversify the industry in the area.

Mr. Owens said he has no plans to remain in Washington after he finishes his term and will return to Plattsburgh.

“My home base will be my home. I was dead serious when I said it was a family decision,” he said.

He also said that, while he would not take a job as a lobbyist, he might do some consulting work from Plattsburgh.

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