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Covert campaigning: Stefanik conceals Ryan from public whose vote she seeks

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Elise M. Stefanik’s campaign eagerly sent news releases to media outlets to promote U.S. Rep. Paul D. Ryan’s visit to Watertown on Monday in support of her bid to win the GOP nomination for the 21st Congressional District.

Rep. Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, toured Knowlton Technologies before attending a fundraiser for Ms. Stefanik at the Savory Downtown restaurant at the Best Western on Washington Street. Publicizing the fundraiser attracted about 100 supporters, each paying $50 to gain entrance, as well as some protesters who hovered outside. It also drew the attention of journalists wanting to inform their audiences what Rep. Ryan told the GOP faithful.

But the journalists, some of whom came from as far away as Plattsburgh, were barred from covering the event. Apparently, Ms. Stefanik believes that 21st Congressional District voters should be kept in the dark about what a former vice presidential candidate has to say to a political party in the midst of a vicious campaign brawl.

News organizations that lured donors to the event were prevented from reporting on what was said there. Emails sent by the Watertown Daily Times to the Stefanik campaign on how media coverage of the event would be handled were summarily ignored.

Rep. Ryan had no contact with journalists at any time during his visit to Watertown. It’s odd that Ms. Stefanik would want to bring one of the most recognizable names on Capitol Hill to the north country and then shield him once he arrived. If Rep. Ryan had a message she believed would boost her campaign, why not share it with the community whose support she seeks to win in the June 24 primary?

Ms. Stefanik, 29, served as a policy adviser in Washington to the Bush administration from 2006 to 2009. She also helped Rep. Ryan prepare for a debate when he ran for vice president in 2012.

So it’s natural that Ms. Stefanik would want Rep. Ryan’s support in her quest to join him in the U.S. House of Representatives. And given that his budget policies have been vigorously opposed by critics — cutting future Social Security benefits, for example — it’s understandable that her campaign sought to prevent exchanges with protesters and detract from the motive for his visit.

But to prohibit journalists from at least telling Northern New Yorkers about Rep. Ryan’s speech at the fundraiser is an affront to voters and a backhanded slap to the news organizations whose willingness to announce such events was sought by the Stefanik campaign. It was an insult to people of the north country who rely on the local media to provide information about what’s happening in their communities.

Communities such as Watertown, which — according to an email recently sent to supporters by Ms. Stefanik — hosted the General Brown Weekend Parade on Saturday. Except that the General Brown Weekend Parade wasn’t in Watertown; it’s held each year in Brownville to honor the village’s founder, Gen. Jacob J. Brown.

For a candidate who has touted her local roots in courting north country voters, this was an embarrassing blunder. And when a major political player visits their city to deliver a message, she in essence tells residents that what he said was none of their business. Is this an effective outreach to the people she wants to represent?

In a post on his blog Monday noting his participation in the Stefanik campaign fundraiser, Watertown Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham wrote, “The media was upset they didn’t get to interview the congressman, but those hyenas will get over it.” Did Mayor Graham, a former television and radio reporter, have this much contempt for himself back then?

And what does this say about how he views those who depend on local media to keep them informed on the news of the day? After all, journalists cover events like this for the benefit of our audiences — the very people who vote in local elections.

Does Mayor Graham look down as much on his constituents’ desire for news as he does the journalists who produce it? Perhaps he should post something on his blog explaining that only “insiders” like him deserve to know what’s going on in Watertown.

Ms. Stefanik’s closed-door fundraiser contrasted with an open meeting that Democratic congressional candidate Aaron G. Woolf had later on Monday in Watertown at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 910. Funny, it was Mr. Woolf who was said to be campaigning in secret at the beginning of the year, not Ms. Stefanik.

Bringing Rep. Ryan to Watertown and then hiding him from virtually all public exposure was an example of the Washington insider interference in this north country race — something that Ms. Stefanik has vehemently denied was occurring on her side.

Mayor Graham is right that this controversy will pass on June 24 when the voters speak. Then when he and Ms. Stefanik come running back to the local media to again promote their political ambitions, they can take comfort that we’ll continue doing our jobs — regardless of the impediments they throw in the way. Despite any temptation, they won’t hear hyenas laughing at their hypocrisy.

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