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Dispatches from the eastern side of NY21


“For this is the country where the age of the internal combustion engine has come into its own.”

— “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren

I didn’t grow up in New York, so hopefully you’ll forgive me for being temporarily stunned by the beauty of this state in the spring.

On Monday I drove east to visit some undiscovered country — the other side of the 21st Congressional District. And when I say undiscovered, I mean undiscovered by me. Apparently there have been people thriving here since at least the last election cycle, undisturbed by a Watertown Daily Times political reporter.

My drive, which was more than three hours, took me through the heart of the Adirondack Park, which I have never visited before.

The park was beautiful on this sunny day; even the pavement seemed to sparkle.

And the drive, which I made with the indispensible aid of my faithful conveyance, a 1999 Honda Civic, gave me a chance to indulge two of my guiltiest pleasures: the consumption of copious amounts of caffeine and pop music. I do not take sugar in my coffee but I prefer it on my radio.

My two favorite songs right now are “Ain’t It Fun” by Paramore and “Red Lights” by Tiesto. Don’t judge me.

My first destination was Elizabethtown, the seat of Essex County and the place where Democratic candidate Aaron G. Woolf is registered to vote. I was there to do some background reporting on Mr. Woolf as well as to attend one of his events and speak with Green Party candidate Matthew J. Funiciello, who owns and operates a bakery and cafe in Glens Falls.

And it was in Elizabethtown, during a meeting with the Essex County Democratic Comissioner Mark C. Whitney, that I made aware of a previously unknown connection between New York and West Virginia, the place where I was reared.

Mr. Whitney told me that the body of John Brown, the fiery abolitionist who led an unsuccessful 1859 raid on the federal Armory in Harpers Ferry, Va., was a brief guest of the local citizens while in transit to his hometown of North Elba after he was hanged for murder, conspiracy to rebel and treason.

Harpers Ferry eventually became a part of the newly formed state of West Virginia in 1863, after the 50 northwestern counties of Virginia voted to secede from the Confederacy.

John Brown led a small band of committed followers in a raid of the armory to obtain weapons for an armed insurrection against the states where slaves were owned. His attempt was hampered by many factors and eventually U.S. Marines under the command of then-Colonel Robert E. Lee captured John Brown and his men.

John Brown’s exploits were drilled into our heads as students of West Virginia history in grade school and I have visited Harpers Ferry on more than one occasion. Like windy roads and Mountaineer football, it is one of the quintessential West Virginia experiences.

So there, on a sunny day in a part of New York I had never seen before, I encountered a piece of home.

I also found people who knew Aaron Woolf and people who didn’t know Aaron Woolf. I talked to Matt Funiciello about his political views and the vehicle he will drive — a Ford F-150 pickup truck — and the music he will listen to — Cake, the Tragically Hip and the Beatles — as he campaigns throughout this gigantic district in the summer.

And I got to see some of the truly beautiful places in upstate New York: the Adirondack Park, Lake Placid, Lake George and Saranac Lake.

I’ll be making a few more stops and then turning my vessel toward home. My car has had its problems in the past, but hopefully, armed with a large coffee and some of the most saccharine music available on the dial, we will make it home safely.

Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper and he’ll be back in Watertown on Wednesday. In the meantime, he can be reached at

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