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Democratic Party Politics In New York's North Country— A Chance To Hold Elise Stefanik Accountable

Fear and Loathing in NY

In Spring 2023, the Democratic Party held their annual Rural Caucus meeting in Saratoga Springs, NY. The theme of this meeting for Democrats outside of Long Island, Westchester County, and the NYC was how the party, Upstate, was going to learn from its 2022 mistakes. As has been lamented and analyzed in every corner of the press, the NY Democrats’ performance in 2022 is the reason the House is in GOP control. Whether it was the lackluster performance Upstate in almost every race or the GOP electing George Santos in NY-03, the performance was underwhelming. 

In many cases, the State party lacked resources to help Democrats because they had spent so much money and volunteer hours in primaries trying to defeat progressives and put in insiders across the state. When the time came for financial and personnel support, it was not there. So far this cycle, it’s evident that they have not learned their lesson. Corrupt, inept conservative Jay Jacobs is still the party chair.

Although we can talk about the plan to help conservative Democrat John Mannion in NY-22 over the more progressive Sarah Klee Hood, today we are going to talk about NY-21 and how an unholy union between Democratic Party insiders and the NY State Working Families Party— yep, them again— is trying to get their-own Kyrsten Sinema elected. Her name is Paula Collins.

The unique thing about NY-21 is that none of the major party candidates were from the District. Until the MAGA Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who is famously from the Albany area, had her residence carefully carved out to be included in the new district lines. Collins, a Manhattan lawyer, recently purchased a property in Rensselaer County to pitch herself as a local. In the process, she demonstrated how out of touch she really is by purchasing an upstate retreat while district residents struggle to find quality affordable housing. In contrast, Steve Holden is a Veteran with rural roots and an actual progressive, Collins is a self-described “centrist” and, in her announcement, referred to herself “as fiscally conservative as they come.” Holden’s politics are much closer to the makeup of the district, as the district is the home to the most veterans in NY (Holden is retired Army), dairy farms in the Mohawk Valley (he was raised on a dairy farm), and Vermont-style progressives in places like Essex, Clinton, Warren, and Washington Counties. 

Collins’ entrance into the race is also suspect. Besides being a lobbyist in Manhattan with no physical or philosophical ties to the district, her main reason for running is that she was talked into it by Joe Rossi, a much-discredited political advisor from downtown Syracuse, also has no ties to NY-21. Where Collins and Rossi intersect is their pro-cannabis lobbying. Holden supports legalization and believes it can help farmers diversify their crops and help seniors and veterans with the treatment of conditions like post traumatic stress, Collins and Rossi are on the business end of this. Collins also entered the race just two weeks before the scheduled petitioning time, with a low social media profile and a limited website— questionable timing. The next couple of issues make her entrance even more suspicious.

In January, the NY-21 Working Families Party accepted Holden’s questionnaire for consideration for the Working Families Party line. In NY, candidates can run on up to two lines. Often, just like many GOP candidates will get backing from the far-right Conservative Party, Democrats will get backing from the WFP. In other places around the country, the WFP supports actual progressive candidates, much like Malcolm Kenyatta last year in Pennsylvania. The NY state-level WFP is different because they have always been notorious and widely mistrusted for putting conservative candidates or party insiders on their line instead of clear progressives. Despite missing the deadline for consideration by a month, the WFP seems to be considering Collins over Holden. The reason? Because Holden lost to Claudia Tenney last cycle. That is a very flimsy argument. What follows is the more likely reason and the second problem with Collins.

In late 2023, Holden’s team was told that no county chairs were getting involved in the primary process. This was due to last cycle’s fiasco where the chairs actively supported the more conservative former CIA counterintelligence officer and DC-insider Matt Castelli over a somewhat more progressive-leaning option, Matt Purtori. During that cycle, there were allegations of homophobic inferences due to Purtori being openly gay. During the 2022 cycle, there was a county chair who was on the Castelli campaign payroll. Whereas this is not illegal, it is highly unethical. During this cycle, Holden’s campaign, which does not accept corporate PAC money, told chairs that he would not be able to pay people like that, and it would be better spent on voter outreach. After these statements, past issues seem to have resurfaced with party insiders infiltrating meetings and endorsement events to spread falsehoods and sow discord. In short, people wanted to be paid. This was especially the case in St. Lawrence County, where the chair and the Democratic Elections Commissioner were recently caught violating the non-interference rule. As of the publishing of this article, the chair has yet to respond to these allegations which were brought to the Holden campaign by other St. Lawrence County Democrats. As well as stating that, they believe neither Stefanik nor Trump are going to be on the ballot, highly unlikely assumptions. 

If people often wonder why NY has had issues getting people elected, this is a classic case. Whether it is gerrymandering out progressives like Mondaire Jones or Sarah Klee Hood, or bringing in right-wing Democrats from outside like Paula Collins or Robert Zimmerman (NY-03 in 2022), it is a good question to ask why the NY Democrats and WFP haven’t learned their lessons.

We want to urge you to help Holden raise the money he needs to take this race to Trump hence-woman Elise Stefanik. It sure doesn’t look like the New York Democratic Party is going to.

1 Comment

Mar 05

Thanks for the insight, the poor Democratic organization has responsibility for Stefanik thriving in a district that is actually much more like nearby Vermont. Jay Jacobs must be replaced. New York is famously oriented towards protecting incumbents above all else.

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