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Stefanik continues to lead as patterns emerge in Republican effort to regain NY21


LOWVILLE - Ahead of the final week of Republican endorsement meetings for candidates hoping to run for New York’s 21st Congressional District, events at the Lewis County GOP gathering Thursday night may be instructive in the race to come.

Declared candidates Elise M. Stefanik, Willsboro, and Michael F. Ring, Adams Center, were there.

Joseph M. Gilbert, DeKalb Junction, the former St. Lawrence County emergency services director and tea party candidate, was not.

Mr. Gilbert also missed the meetings in Warren and Fulton counties.

“It appears that the party has already picked their candidate. It’s not the people of the 21st district that pick their candidate, it’s the 12 chairs. I’m reassessing the race,” Mr. Gilbert said Friday.

Lewis County Republican Committee Chairman Michael F. Young said that while the candidates were informed of the committee’s decision, the members have agreed not to disclose their choice until after Feb. 5, when Republican chairpersons from the district’s 12 counties will meet to discuss their selections.

The party is hoping to emerge from that meeting unified behind a single candidate — a concerted effort to avoid the infighting that many feel cost the party the seat in 2009, when Democrat William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, won a special election for the position.

Also missing from the meeting was Mr. Owens’s two-time Republican opponent, Matthew A. Doheny, though his presence was intermittently felt as candidates and committee members discussed the rumor that he might once again try for the seat.

Perhaps indicating that the committee intended to keep its options open, Mr. Young told Ms. Stefanik and Mr. Ring that the Lewis County committee has no “loyalty clause,” which means the committee will circulate the ballot petitions of any registered Republican candidate who asks for its help, regardless of whom the committee endorses.

On Friday, Mr. Young said the committee’s approach to circulating ballot petitions was a long-standing tradition originally instituted some 25 years ago to prevent intra-party friction during local races.

The meeting was held at 7 p.m. at Tug Hill Vineyard off Route 12 in Lowville. It was very dark and very cold when the meeting began and fires were lit in both the banquet room and the wine cellar of the vineyard’s main building. Members of the media were not allowed to attend the committee’s deliberations, though candidates were available for interviews before and after they appeared before the committee.

Ahead of her appearance and after a week of steady endorsement announcements, Ms. Stefanik seemed confident she was still the front-runner in the race, despite the rumors of Mr. Doheny’s late entry.

Ms. Stefanik said she has been receiving support from committee members and voters throughout the district, including registered Republicans, Conservatives and independents.

“The most important thing is that I’m talking to voters directly. I’m in this race,” Ms. Stefanik said.

A Harvard graduate, Ms. Stefanik worked in the White House from 2006 to 2009 on the Domestic Policy Council staff and in the chief of staff’s office, where she worked on economic and domestic policy issues.

She also served as policy director on Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign and director of debate prep for Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

Mr. Ryan endorsed Ms. Stefanik in a tweet the day Mr. Owens announced he was stepping aside.

“My friend @EliseStefanik represents a new generation of leaders who will bring fresh ideas to Washington. She has my full support,” the tweet said.

It’s clear that Ms. Stefanik has some strong political connections, not only to national figures, but to state and local politicians as well. She has received endorsements from former state Sen. Raymond A. Meier, Freda Solomon, widow of longtime New York congressman Gerald B.H. Solomon and several business and community leaders.

On Friday, Daniel E. MacEntee, spokesman for state Sen. Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury, clarified some of the senator’s statements that were reported originally in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

Ms. Stefanik is Sen. Little’s favorite among the three declared candidates but she has not formally endorsed her at this point, according to Mr. MacEntee.

“While Betty likes Elise, others may come forward seeking the nomination,” Mr. MacEntee said in an emailed statement.

What is less clear is how strong Ms. Stefanik’s ties are with the 21st District. She lives and works in Willsboro, a small town of about 2,000 people on the shores of Lake Champlain.

She is responsible for sales calls at her family’s company, Premium Plywood Products Inc., which is based in Albany County.

And while the town of Willsboro is solidly in the 21st District, the village of Altamont, where Premium Plywood Products is based, is not.

But Ms. Stefanik explained that the company’s location near Albany allows it to do business with companies in New York and neighboring states, said that she has neighbors in Willsboro who have known her since she was 3 years old and insisted that she is not a “D.C. insider.”

Willsboro Town Supervisor Shaun Gillilland said that he met Ms. Stefanik when she moved to Willsboro full time a year ago and, as a Republican, he has endorsed her for the congressional seat along with two other members of the town’s five-person Town Council.

“She is a resident of Willsboro and so we try to support our Willsboro natives,” said Mr. Gillilland, who happens to share a last name with the founder of the town, William Gillilland, though he said he is not a direct descendent.

“I’ve given her whatever support I could,” Mr. Gillilland said, adding that Ms. Stefanik also carried ballot petitions for him when he ran for town supervisor.

Ms. Stefanik also has added to her campaign team, hiring New York residents with connections to the district.

Anthony Pileggi, a Herkimer native and a former staffer for Rep. Richard L. Hanna, R-Utica, is now her director of operations, and Christina Sofia-Comer, a Saratoga County resident and president of CSC Capital LLC, is her fundraiser.

Ms. Stefanik contends that she has the right energy, voice, support and experience for the job and said she is not afraid of a primary fight, should one arise.

“No question, whoever runs, I’m in this race because of all the support I’ve gotten,” she said before speaking before the Lewis County committee.

Mr. Ring’s candidacy is harder to characterize. Billing himself as an “unconventional candidate” when he first announced, Mr. Ring’s efforts, while impressive — he’s traveled to every county committee meeting save one that fell during a heavy snowstorm — seem more intellectual than practical.

Though he has filed with the Federal Election Commission, Mr. Ring said he does not to plan to raise any money for his campaign until he gets his name on the ballot.

“I don’t believe in taking money from somebody if my name is not going to be on the ballot,” he said.

Mr. Ring said he feels he will make a difference even if he doesn’t win the endorsement of the Republican Party in the 21st district by inspiring people to get involved in politics, especially at a time when there is such widespread dissatisfaction with Washington.

There are three more Republican Committee meetings in Herkimer, St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties. The final meeting will be the Jefferson County meeting on Thursday in Watertown.

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