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Stefanik pins Trump death wishes on Voters for Change, Cobb

The campaign to reelect U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, is at odds with the campaign of her Democratic opponent Tedra Cobb, of Canton, over statements published in an Adirondack Daily Enterprise story on Oct. 3 wishing death on President Donald Trump.

In the early morning hours of Oct. 2, the president took to Twitter to announce he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19. The following day, Enterprise reporter Aaron Cerbone took to the streets of Saranac Lake to ask the public its opinion of the president’s diagnosis.

Kathleen Klein and Stephen Peters, who told the Enterprise they were visiting Saranac Lake from Binghamton, were quoted by the Enterprise saying they wished death on the president following his diagnosis with COVID-19.

The Enterprise reported both Klein and Peters danced around the sidewalk when they were asked about their opinion of the president’s illness.

“We’re just hoping he takes a turn for the worse,” Klein told the Enterprise.

“Hopefully he’ll die and then no one will vote for Pence,” added Peters.

Neither Klein nor Peters could be reached for comment by the Times.

Alongside those statements, the Enterprise reported Phil Newton, a member of the Adirondack Voters for Change political organization, based in Saranac Lake, was also dismissive of the president’s condition.

“Couldn’t happen to a nicer person,” Newton sarcastically told the Enterprise from the Adirondack Voters for Change headquarters. “I can’t help but wonder about a lot of people who seem to think this virus is a myth … it might shake them up a bit.”

Adirondack Voters for Change characterizes itself as a nonpartisan, issues-based organization that promotes progressive change and citizen engagement in politics. The organization has endorsed Cobb in the race for the NY-21 House seat.

The day the Enterprise story was published, the Stefanik reelection campaign released a press statement that suggested Klein and Peters were members of the Adirondack Voters for Change and were speaking on behalf of the organization. The release also said Adirondack Voters for Change is a regional campaign headquarters for the Cobb campaign and called on Cobb to condemn the organization and disavow their endorsement.

“It’s inexcusable and disgraceful that while our President and First Lady recover from COVID-19, Tedra Cobb allows and accepts her volunteers dancing in the streets and wishing death upon them,” Stefanik said in a campaign statement on Oct. 3. “Tedra Cobb must immediately publicly apologize and condemn this sick vitriol from her campaign regional headquarters celebrating the COVID diagnosis — even going so far as wishing death on the President. Tedra Cobb must disavow their endorsement and return all contributions immediately.”

When reached on Oct. 7, James Abendroth, president of Adirondack Voters for Change, said none of the people included in the initial Enterprise report were spokespeople for the organization, and disavowed the statements calling for the president’s death.

“No, we obviously don’t wish death on (Trump),” he said. “We wish him a speedy recovery. Nobody is going to wish him any harm. Obviously, we don’t approve of his actions, but that doesn’t mean we want him dead.”

Abendroth said Klein and Peters have no connections to his organization, and their views are not reflective of the Adirondack Voters for Change’s position.

Cerbone said he spoke with Klein and Peters on the streets after they had visited the Adirondack Voters for Change offices. He said he found they briefly stopped in to speak with Adirondack Voters for Change volunteers but had not signed up for anything or purchased any merchandise.

Abendroth also distanced Adirondack Voters for Change from Newton’s statements. He said while Newton was working in the Adirondack Voters for Change offices that day and is connected with the organization, he was not speaking as an official spokesperson for Adirondack Voters for Change.

Abendroth also pushed back against the Stefanik campaign’s characterization of Adirondack Voters for Change as a “regional headquarters” for the Cobb campaign. He said while Adirondack Voters for Change had endorsed Cobb, he would not say they’re working alongside her on a daily basis, or working in an official partnership with her campaign.

“We are not an arm of the Cobb campaign, no,” Abendroth said.

The Adirondack Voters for Change hosted a “Meet the Candidates” event Saturday in Saranac Lake with Cobb as well as Claudia Braymer, the Democratic candidate in the race for New York’s 114th Assembly District.

In a press release sent the day before the event, Stefanik campaign spokesperson Maddie Anderson called on Cobb to immediately cancel her appearance at the event and reiterated the call for Cobb to disavow the Adirondack Voters for Change endorsement and distance herself from the organization.

“Anything less is a slap in the face to the overwhelming majority of north country voters who chose Donald Trump as their president,” Anderson said.

A spokesperson for the Cobb campaign confirmed Monday that Adirondack Voters for Change is not a regional headquarters or official arm of the campaign. Cobb herself said in a statement that she does not agree with Klein and Peters’ statements in the Enterprise’s report and called on Stefanik and her campaign to run a “clean campaign” for the rest of this year’s election.

“This isn’t the time for partisanship and politics,” Cobb said in a prepared statement. “I don’t agree with these comments, and I condemn this type of vitriol. I have asked my opponent to join me in running a clean campaign, free of name-calling and lies. I hope she joins me in that effort for these last 22 days. My wish for The President and the First Lady is a rapid and full recovery. That is my same wish for the millions of Americans who have contracted COVID-19.”

When presented with the statements of Abendroth, the Cobb campaign and Cerbone, Anderson reiterated the Stefanik campaign’s initial position that Klein, Peters and Newton’s statements are reflective of both the Adirondack Voters for Change and Cobb’s campaign.

“The Stefanik campaign remains shocked and disgusted by Tedra Cobb’s refusal to disavow the Adirondack Voters for Change endorsement, where she was the featured guest speaker just this past weekend,” Anderson said. “The reporting from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise featured both members of the Adirondack Voters for Change and Tedra Cobb supporters acting gleefully over President Trump’s COVID diagnosis, wishing death on him, and dancing in the streets as millions of Americans were praying for his quick recovery.”

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