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Doheny joins 21st Congressional District race; campaign will focus on jobs, health care

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The race for the 21st Congressional District seat just got a lot more interesting, as former Republican candidate Matthew M. Doheny announced this morning that he will seek the party’s nomination for the third time.

Mr. Doheny, who barely lost twice to Rep. William L. Owens, in 2010 and 2012, will challenge front-running Republican candidate Elise M. Stefanik, Willsboro, and tea party favorite Joseph M. Gilbert, DeKalb Junction, in a June 24 Republican primary.

Democrats have endorsed an Essex County man, Aaron Woolf, a documentary filmmaker who divides his time between a home in the Adirondacks and Brooklyn, as their candidate.

In his previous races, the investor from Watertown lost to Mr. Owens by narrow margins. Along the way, he spent more than $3 million of his own money on the failed efforts.

Mr. Doheny said he would not have entered the race had Mr. Owens sought re-election.

“I was shocked when Mr. Owens announced he wouldn’t run,” Mr. Doheny said. “I would not have entered the race otherwise. We had two fair fights and he won them both.”

The Owens decision not to run, however, made Mr. Doheny reconsider.

“It’s a wide-open race,” the candidate said. “It looks like there could be three primaries — I read in your paper there even will be a Green Party primary.”

Mr. Doheny said a Republican primary was not daunting, noting he had primary fights in both 2010 and 2012 before gaining the GOP nomination.

He would not characterize how he would run against Ms. Stefanik.

“I take every race seriously,” he said. “I’ve been to all 194 towns and cities in this district, I know the district and I’m going to make sure our message gets out all across the district.”

Mr. Doheny wouldn’t say how much financial support he was prepared to put into his own campaign. He said, however, that the level of support he was shown before he decided to run encouraged him.

“I would go to Target, someone would say ‘you should run,’” he said. “I’d like to carry that level of support right through the election.”

In both 2010 and 2012, Mr. Doheny’s campaign received a higher number of individual campaign contributions than did Mr. Owens’s. He said he would like to take that level of financial support with him into the 2014 campaign.

While Mr. Doheny was a bachelor when he ran in 2010, he has since married, and in 2013 he became a father. He said that experience has made him a different candidate than the one that ran before.

“Having a wife and a young son is the most wonderful experience I’ve had,” Mr. Doheny said. “It has broadened my view of life.”

As a result, he said, he enters this campaign with a different outlook.

“I’ve got more emphasis on the needs of a young family in the north country,” he said. “I’ve become Mr. Diaper Changer and I’m good at it.”

Mr. Doheny said his platform would focus on three things: better health-care reform; creating jobs, especially in the north country; and providing constituent service.

The candidate said that health care is one of the most important issues facing the nation, but said “Obamacare isn’t doing what we need.” He said a priority would be helping to find a better solution.

Mr. Doheny said he has been following what has been written about the North Country Health Systems Redesign Commission, but wants to hear their conclusions before he recommends a particular solution to north country health-care needs.

“I think it’s important that they’re getting everyone in one room to talk,” he said. “There are a lot of small clinics and small hospitals in the region and a regional solution or subregional solution could be the answer.”

Mr. Doheny also said that Jefferson County having the second highest unemployment rate in the state is “simply unacceptable,” and pledged to use his business acumen to help find a path to more economic stability. Mr. Doheny’s most recent economic development project was helping restructure and realign Kodak, which last year emerged from bankruptcy.

He also said he would provide strong constituent services across what is geographically one of the largest districts east of the Mississippi.

“You only have one point person for this district,” he said. “Constituents have needs and I’m going to focus on helping them.”

News of Mr. Doheny’s announcement spread quickly.

Ms. Stefanik said this morning that she has been the only Republican candidate who’s been in the race for the past year, when it appeared Mr. Owens would be running as a third-term incumbent. Before he decided not to run, it looked like it would end up a race between herself and Mr. Owens in the fall, she said.

“I’m in the only candidate who’s been running for the past year,” she said, stressing that she has gained the support of Republicans, Democrats and Independent voters throughout the district.

“We need a new leader to represent us in Washington,” she said, saying she is focused on her campaign, “no matter who enters the race.”

She made that comment after hearing this morning that another Republican, Tupper Lake Mayor and Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun, also may enter the race.

With Mr. Doheny possibly funding his campaign with his own money, Ms. Stefanik said she will go after small donations from individuals “in every corner of the district,” adding that she was “not a self-fundor” candidate.

In a press release today, Ms. Stefanik appeared to criticize Mr. Doheny’s background in corporate finance.

“As the only candidate in this race with small business experience in Upstate New York, I believe my background provides the experience and perspective needed to best advocate on behalf of the challenges of our struggling Main Street economy in the 21st District,” the release said.

Former Democratic state Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine said this morning he is still considering a run but has not made up his mind. Mr. Aubertine, former commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets who now works for the state comptroller as special assistant for external affairs, told The Times he was leaning one way, but would not elaborate.

“There’s a lot to consider. It’s not like I’m pontificating at my kitchen table on my decision,” he said. “I still have a job to do.”

Mr. Aubertine, who was on his way to Malone to talk to constituents this morning, criticized Mr. Doheny, saying that in his announcement Mr. Doheny called himself “a good Republican.” But he also would be responsible for representing Democrats, Independents and others in the 21st Congressional District.

The Republican does not understand what struggling families go through, Mr. Aubertine went on to say.

With possibly four GOP candidates running, Mr. Gilbert, president of the Northern New York Tea Party said neither his campaign nor his message of fiscal conservatism, Second Amendment rights and small government will change with Mr. Doheny getting into the race.

He said any candidate who runs for office “should stick to their good values and principles that they stand for.” He contended the primary will make the Republican candidate stronger for the general election.

“More candidates invovled in the primary is not necessarily a bad thing,” Mr. Gilbert said.

Jefferson County Democratic Committee Chairman Ronald H. Cole said GOP voters will need a score card to keep track of the Republican primary because of the crowded Republican field.

“Let the Republicans sort out who they want as a candidate,” he said.

While he declined to speculate on Mr. Aubertine’s plans, Mr. Cole predicted that Democrats will not end up having a primary.

He noted that Mr. Woolf was in Malone Tuesday night to gain support. Mr. Cole expects the Democratic candidate will visit Jefferson County soon.

So far, Mr. Woolf still has not responded to news media requests for interviews.

St. Lawrence County Republican Committee Chair Thomas L. Jenison said although Republican county committees of the 21st Congressional District have decided to back Ms. Stefanik, town committee members can choose to gather signatures for Mr. Doheny as well.

Of the 12 districts, Jefferson County was the only county that declined to endorse Ms. Stefanik at a meeting held Feb. 7 in Elizabethtown.

Mr. Doheny is a Jefferson County native, graduating from Alexandria Central School. He is the son of Sandra “Kay” and the late Richard Doheny.

Jefferson County Republican Chairman Donald G.M. Coon III said that he knew that Mr. Doheny was considering for some time whether he would get into the race and “is very happy” with his decision. While some people believe the late entry may hurt him, Mr. Coon disagreed, saying that Mr. Doheny “has run two successful primaries” for the office in the past.

“He has experience in the district. He knows the district. He knows the people in the district,” Mr. Coon said. “It’s going to be a good race. It’ll be very interesting.”

Mr. Doheny, 43, is a graduate of Allegheny College and received his law degree at Cornell University. After practicing law in Syracuse, he joined Deutsche Bank where he managed accounts and worked in the acquisition and rescue of large troubled companies. He started his own business, North Country Capital LLC, Watertown, in 2010.

Mr. Doheny and his wife, Mary, live in Watertown with their 7-month-old son, Declan.

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