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Woolf discusses a wide range of campaign issues in Times interview

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CANTON - Addressing issues critical to the north country for the first time Tuesday, Democrat Aaron Woolf said ensuring Fort Drum’s future and creating new jobs top the list of his priorities if elected in New York’s 21st Congressional District.

His telephone interview with the Times was his first campaign foray into policy questions.

“As I travel across the district, one single theme resonants: We need jobs and Fort Drum is obviously the economic driver of that,” he said.

Mr. Woolf, Elizabethtown, said the 10th Mountain Division “has distinguished itself” as the type of light infantry division needed for modern warfare and, with the Department of Defense considering another round of Base Closures and Realignments, the focus should instead be on expanding Fort Drum’s mission.

“Fort Drum, as a military facility, is and should be the model for modern facilities in the 21st century,” he said. “The chief challenges are to end the uncertainty and do everything we can do to avoid another round of BRAC.”

Mr. Woolf said he recently visited Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown and found it to be a “first-class health care facility,” one that has integrated itself well with the needs of Fort Drum. However, he said he is aware that other rural facilities in the district will require a sustained, concentrated effort to improve the quality and consistency of care.

“If every community had what Watertown has, we’d be in a lot better place,” he said. “When I look at the rest of the north country, I think that we have some real concerns.”

He said one answer could come from “leveraging” Medicaid to obtain lower costs on pharmaceuticals, an issue that the federal government can address. He said federal health care programs “cannot be one-size-fits-all,” but need to be crafted “from the bottom up,” with local input. He also said that he is familiar with and learning more about the work of the North Country Health Systems Redesign Commission, a group looking at all aspects of health care in the region in order to recommend improvements.

Mr. Woolf said he is aware of the “great consternation” caused by the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, stating that he did not agree with the way it was enacted and rolled out. However, he said some gun control, at the state level, is needed to address gun violence, an issue that he said also concerns most gun owners.

“I’m a gun owner. I’ve got a freezer full of venison. I’ve got neighbors that hunt not just for sport, but sustenance,” Mr. Woolf said. “The north country can be assured I will protect their 2nd Amendment rights if I’m elected to Congress.”

Mr. Woolf said he has “spent a lot of time thinking about, working on, and trying to get my head around” agricultural issues, which he said are “hugely important” to the north country and part of the region’s heritage. He said as the owner of an organic grocery store in Brooklyn, it has taught him about the importance of infrastructure, from roads to better broadband connections for sales of agricultural products over the Internet, to increase the market for products.

“We have to figure out away for young people to get on the farm, be successful and repurpose our heritage and agricultural skills for the 21st century,” he said.

He said he is a proponent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School Grant Program, which helps eligible schools to bring in produce from local farms for school meals.

“We’re not going to feed the world with arugula,” he said. “We need to have big farmers, little farmers, all farmers at the table (to develop agricultural policies).”

Mr. Woolf said he supports the concept of a proposed east-west highway across the top of the district, known as Interstate 98. He said when the interstate system was devised, it was meant to be a long-term project that could be added to as infrastructure needs arise, as is the case with the I-98 corridor.

“That’s the kind of vision I think we need. I-98 is a bold stroke,” he said. “I think today we have a disease of short-term thinking. What I like about I-98 is that it is a bold stroke in that (historical) tradition.”

Mr. Woolf said he continues to meet with people to learn more about issues and still plans to make a formal announcement regarding his candidacy soon, although he sounded very much the committed candidate in his interview.

Mr. Woolf, 49, has a wife, Caroline, a psychologist who works with abused children, and a daughter, Eloise, 2.

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