9 congressional candidates face off in Plattsburgh

PLATTSBURGH — Nine candidates hoping to unseat incumbent Rep. Elise Stefanik in the 2018 election for the 21st District congressional seat traded views at an entertaining forum Monday at Clinton Community College.

The scene was reminiscent of the 2016 presidential campaign, when stages across the country were often filled with politicians competing to get the best answers in.

Of the nine candidates at the CCC event, seven were Democrats, one was Republican and one independent. Democrats are likely to hold a primary next June to determine who will be their candidate in the November election. Republican Russ Finley of Lisbon, St. Lawrence County, plans to challenge Stefanik in a Republican primary. Steve Krieg, who lives in Plattsburgh, says he is running as an independent.

Oppose tanker storage

In the two-hour forum sponsored by North Country RESPECT and moderated by Pat Bradley of WAMC radio, candidates discussed a wide range of issues, including taxes, economic development and their favorite presidents.

Tedra Cobb of Canton in St. Lawrence County, Ronald Kim of Queensbury in Warren County, Katie Wilson of Keene in Essex County, Tanya Boone of Granville in Washington County, Don Boyajian of Cambridge in Saratoga County, Patrick Nelson of Stillwater in Saratoga County and Emily Martz of Saranac Lake in Franklin County are the Democrats who participated.

Krieg and Finley were also at the forum.

Stefanik, R-Willsboro, did not take part.

All of the candidates agreed that having a private railroad company housing empty oil tanker cars in the Adirondack Park is a bad idea and that whoever the congressional representative is should make it a priority to get the cars removed.

Kim suggested that a special tax on the railroad company would make its owners change their minds in a hurry.

Winter Olympics

All candidates, except Wilson, said they would like to see the Lake Placid region consider hosting another Winter Olympic Games, whether it be solo or in conjunction with Montreal.

Wilson said hosting the games would be costly and noted that in the aftermath of the 1980 games in Lake Placid, the athletes village was turned into a prison.

“Not unless you want more prisons,” Wilson said of the games idea.


Most candidates said Congress should seriously look into whether President Donald Trump and Vice President Michael Pence should face impeachment, but Finley was not among them. He sternly objected to the question, saying it was not appropriate; several audience members groaned.

“Hey, you want to attack my president, ladies and gentlemen? I’m not going to tolerate it,” Finley said.

Zumba and French

Asked how many High Peaks they’ve hiked, most candidates said they have done some but could not recall exactly how many.

Boyajian said he is an avid hiker and is working on tackling many of the High Peaks in winter now.

Cobb admitted that she had hiked none.

“But I’ve done a whole lot of Zumba,” she said, drawing laughs.

The candidates also confessed that they are very limited in speaking French.

“Rooftop highway”

The question of whether to support a “rooftop highway” across the northern portion of the state, connecting Plattsburgh and Watertown, drew mixed answers.

Martz said a rooftop highway would stimulate the economy of the region.

“Prosperity exists where the flow of goods and services exists,” she said.

Party leaders

Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Jimmy Carter and Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt were mentioned when the candidates were asked to name their all-time favorite presidents.

Krieg drew laughter when he answered the question: Who do you think is the leader of your party?

“Angela Merkel,” he said, naming the German chancellor. “I had to go with somebody I could respect.”

Boone named U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

“I know there’s big controversy right now so she’s taking a lot of heat, but I would still say Kirsten Gillibrand,” she said.

“Time to unseat her”

The Democratic candidates all said Stefanik is not representing the district well and it is time to unseat her.

Stefanik was first elected in 2014, at 30, the youngest woman ever voted in to Congress, and she was re-elected again in 2016.

“She is not doing her job,” Boyajian said.

Wilson, who is just a few months older than Stefanik, said she would be the youngest Democratic woman ever elected if she wins.

“But I represent the working class,” she said. “When was the last time we had a working-class representative? How great would that be?”

Finley reminded the Democratic candidates and the audience that Stefanik must first win the nod of her own party if she wants to be re-elected.

“Elise has to get through me first,” he said. “I’m here, and she is not.”

Informal poll

A straw poll was circulated among the 122 people in attendance, asking who they thought would be the most effective representative for the district.

Nelson was pleased to come out on top of the informal survey, with 34 of 100 votes.

“We won,” Nelson tweeted after the event.

Cobb and Martz were next with 14 each, and Wilson had 13.