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Aaron Woolf in Elizabethtown: he’s not a native, but not unknown

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ELIZABETHTOWN — As Democratic congressional candidate Aaron G. Woolf campaigned aggressively in Saratoga, Washington and Warren counties on May 12, it was a warm and languorous morning in Elizabethtown, the seat of Essex County and the place where Mr. Woolf’s family has a home and where he is registered to vote.

A pair of contractors installed scaffolding to repair the columns adorning one of the entrances to the Essex County Government Center while teenagers waiting to take their driving tests sat outside on a bench. And in the Arsenal Inn, a few locals had trouble placing the man who came seemingly out of nowhere to build a formidable challenge to the notion that the 21st Congressional District will return to Republican hands after Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, retires at the end of this year.

“Other than hearing his name, I’ve never seen his face. I don’t even know who the guy is,” said Larry G. Bashhaw, who grew up in Elizabethtown but now lives in Lewis. “I know just about everybody except the new ones.”

Mr. Woolf registered to vote in Essex County on Feb. 7, according to a report from the Essex County Board of Elections.

Mr. Bashhaw, who is a Republican, was having lunch at the Arsenal Inn with Essex County Sheriff Richard C. Cutting, also a Republican, and Don G. Ratliff, a Democrat who said he lived a few houses down from Mr. Woolf’s property on Route 9.

Mr. Cutting said he did not know Mr. Woolf personally. He did, however, have several positive things to say about one of Mr. Woolf’s potential opponents, Republican Elise M. Stefanik, who also is registered to vote in Essex County. Ms. Stefanik will face Matthew A. Doheny in a primary election June 24. Mr. Woolf will not face a primary opponent after the state Board of Elections invalidated the petitions of his challenger Stephen W. Burke for not having enough signatures.

Mr. Ratliff was more circumspect in his comments about Mr. Woolf. He said he did not know the man well but was interested to learn more about him.

“I’m interested to see if he’s invested in the area, the local businesses. That will give us a good idea about how interested he is in the area,” Mr. Ratliff said.

After a speech in Glens Falls that same night, Mr. Woolf, whose previous voting address was on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, defended his connection to the district. He said that Elizabethtown and the property his parents purchased there in 1968 have been “the only place that’s been a consistent home for me.”

“I’ll be the first to admit that my work has taken me all over the world, but my daughter’s best friend is there, my dad’s ashes are there. ...,” Mr. Woolf said. “I’m happy to repeat over and over again how dedicated to the future of this district I am.”

And he does have some connections in the area who speak well of him.

Kevin A. Hall, a land surveyor who works in the Adirondack Park and has his offices in Elizabethtown, said he has done work for Mr. Woolf in the past.

“He’s a good guy. I enjoyed working for him. He’s conscientious,” Mr. Hall said. “I didn’t realize he was running. I think he’d do good.”

Mr. Woolf also served on the board of the Adirondack Council, a nonprofit conservation advocacy group, according to Executive Director William C. Janeway.

Mr. Woolf served on the board from July 2011 until he resigned to run for Congress, Mr. Janeway said.

“We have to have advocacy for the community, the environment and jobs to make the park work,” Mr. Janeway said. “And that’s exactly why Aaron was a valuable and appreciated member of our diverse board.”

Mr. Woolf also served on the board of Champlain Area Trails and helped start the Adirondack North Country Association’s Go Digital or Go Dark campaign to help struggling local independent movie theaters. The rural, low-budget theaters have faced the need to replace dated film projectors with digital machines, as Hollywood rapidly phases out print production of movies. The costs average $100,000, according to the project website.

Of the 10 theaters the project originally supported, it is still raising funds for three: the Hollywood, Au Sable Forks; the Strand, Schroon Lake, and the Palace, Lake Placid. The other theaters are in Ogdensburg, Glens Falls, Queensbury, Tupper Lake, Au Sable Forks, Old Forge and Indian Lake.

Mr. Woolf is the director of the Peabody-award winning documentary “King Corn,” the documentary “Dying to Leave: The Global Face of Human Trafficking and Smuggling” and the PBS special “Beyond the Motor City.”

Mr. Woolf is also the co-owner of the grocery store and cafe Urban Rustic in Brooklyn, which sells items produced on New York farms.

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