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Stumping around the district, Democrat Woolf channels the 19th century while aiming for the future

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SACKETS HARBOR — Aaron G. Woolf may have best described this stage of his campaign for New York’s 21st Congressional District in his remarks following a gathering at the Sackets Harbor Brewing Co. Wednesday.

“This is the kind of politics that, you know, you imagine when you think about what it would be like to run for office. You could see a 19th century lithograph that looked exactly like this — a person connecting with people listening to people, feeling the energy in the room,” Mr. Woolf said.

Indeed, Mr. Woolf’s visit to the western part of the district this week incorporated some elements of the past and present as the Democratic candidate toured the Seaway Trail Discovery Center and businesses along West Main Street in the village after visiting MetalCraft Marine in Cape Vincent.

As rain fell on the sailing vessels docked in the harbor, Mr. Woolf heard about the village’s efforts to incorporate historical references to the War of 1812 in its development plans from Mayor Vincent J. Battista III and the village’s heritage area director, David W. Altieri. Prior to that, at MetalCraft Marine, Mr. Woolf climbed aboard aluminum boats being manufactured by American workers, considered a rare sight these days.

“It’s amazing,” Mr. Woolf said. “I love being around places where things are being made.”

Never mind that the candidate, who is running to replace retiring Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, is talking about the same things he has been talking about since the beginning of his campaign — the importance of investing in infrastructure, the need for job creation and the economic significance of the north country’s natural beauty. He’s reaching new people.

“I’m really thrilled; we’re talking about how we can revitalize our economy and build 21st-century jobs, but it’s nice to have a little 19th-century stump speeching as part of the process,” Mr. Woolf said.

Mr. Woolf, a documentary filmmaker with a home in Elizabethtown, has been criss-crossing the district as of late, delivering a speech about Social Security in Plattsburgh on Thursday and touring a senior center in Willsboro on Tuesday before coming to Watertown.

The renewed energy for the campaign comes following a couple of weeks of negative publicity, including reports that the two food stores he co-owns in Brooklyn racked up 83 Health Department violations in the course of 3½ years.

“Look, politics is a contact sport. I felt as a small business owner, you face challenges, whether you’re running for office, whether you’re a small business owner... And you face up to those challenges, you take responsibility and you try to fix them. In the case of that story, both of those businesses have ‘A’ ratings now and I like to think that some of that is behind me. I’m really trying to focus on what’s most important to north country voters and I don’t think those issues are that,” Mr. Woolf said.

Mr. Woolf’s stumping strategy seems to be paying off, at least in terms of generating interest.

Kathleen J. Mereand, Watertown, is a registered Republican. She came to the Sackets Harbor Brewing Co. to hear more from Mr. Woolf.

“I came out to see what his policies are,” Mrs. Mereand said. “He’s kind of an unknown because he hasn’t said much. I feel kind of negative toward one candidate so I’m hoping the other one will fit the bill.”

Mr. Woolf is running against Republican and Conservative nominee Elise M. Stefanik, a former White House aide who lives in Willsboro, and Green Party candidate Matthew J. Funiciello, a bakery and cafe owner from Glens Falls.

Mrs. Mereand said she felt like she was hearing the “same old, same old” from Ms. Stefanik regarding issues such as the Affordable Care Act and the Second Amendment and that she wanted to hear something new.

“I vote for the person and the policy. I feel like we’ve really been going downhill in the last couple of years and I really feel like we need to make some changes,” Ms. Mereand said.

Candidates to debate

WATERTOWN — Republican and Conservative Party nominee Elise M. Stefanik issued a news release Wednesday challenging Democrat Aaron G. Woolf and Green Party candidate Matthew J. Funiciello — her opponents in the race for New York’s 21st Congressional District — to a series of debates in October.

The three candidates are vying for the opportunity to replace Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who is not seeking re-election. The general election is Nov. 4.

The debates are tentatively scheduled for the week of Oct. 6 at Time Warner Cable News facilities in Albany and Watertown, the week of Oct. 13 at WPTZ-TV in Plattsburgh, and the week of Oct. 20 at WWNY-YV in Watertown.

“I look forward to having an open and transparent discussion about the issues most important to the voters in this District; including helping our small businesses grow, fighting for Fort Drum and our military men and women, advocating for our family farms and protecting vital entitlement programs for seniors and those who need them,” Ms. Stefanik said in the release. “I hope Matt and Aaron will join me in discussing positive solutions to solve the issues facing both this district and the nation.”

Mr. Funiciello said that he would gladly take up the challenge, though he described it as more of an “invitation.”

“We’re certainly intending to be in all the debates,” Mr. Funiciello said.

The Stefanik and Woolf campaigns did not miss an opportunity to trade jabs with each other.

“We accept, in principle, a debate with each of these three stations in the general time frame of October. The exact details must still be discussed. During these debates, we look forward to seeing if Elise Stefanik will finally let voters know whether she supports Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare; whether she has a concrete plan or proposal to raise the federal minimum wage; and whether she will end tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires who pay a lower tax rate than middle class families as well as close corporate tax loopholes for companies that earn billions,” said Woolf spokesman Yianni Varonis, in an emailed statement.

“Aaron Woolf and his campaign team have dodged taking stands on the issues all summer, while misrepresenting where Elise stands on key policies,” said Charlotte Guyett, campaign press secretary for Ms. Stefanik, in the news release. “Transparent debate is the best antidote for misinformation, and Elise looks forward to a robust, positive discussion about the future of the district and our nation.”

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