NY-21 candidates debate over debates

Debate season for the North Country’s congressional campaigns is fast approaching, but it appears the candidates in the 21st Congressional District are already at odds over who will host the forums.

On Tuesday, Democratic candidate Matt Castelli announced he has agreed to three television debates, with Mountain Lake PBS and News Channel 5 in Plattsburgh and WWNY, Channel 7 News in Watertown.

Without specifying, Castelli’s campaign said the debates would be hosted through mid-September to late October, and would consider additional televised debates hosted by local media organizations if offered.

“I will participate in any opportunity to provide the voters with my vision for NY-21, showing the stark contrast between my history of service to our country and Elise Stefanik’s history of selling out the people of upstate New York to serve herself,” Castelli said. “I am grateful to the media outlets that are working hard to keep voters informed, and I call on Elise Stefanik to give voters the respect of responding immediately to their invitations.”

But Rep. Elise Stefanik’s campaign shot down Castelli’s announcement when asked for comment, and said they have not agreed publicly to any debate invitations. The congresswoman’s senior political adviser, Alex deGrasse, accused Castelli and local media outlets of “colluding” to avoid a Democratic primary debate in his contest for the party’s line against Matt Putorti, a contest which was decided in August.

“Castelli hid from a primary debate so he could hide his far-left gun banning, tax hiking, Hochul-endorsed views with the all-too-willing media accomplices,” deGrasse said.

There was no debate in the primary campaign, because no local media organizations offered to host one for the Democratic Congressional primary.

DeGrasse said Castelli’s agreement to debates in Watertown and Plattsburgh, with no debates scheduled in the Capital Region at the district’s south, demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the district.

DeGrasse said Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, and her team are reviewing all debate invitations, and accused local media of being biased toward Castelli.

“If the biased local media thinks that far left Democrat Castelli is going to hand-pick the debate moderators, debate terms, debate questions and dates, they are sorely mistaken,” he said.

Stefanik, in previous campaigns, appeared in debates at all three of those news stations agreed to by Castelli, and in 2020 those were the only channels to host debates in the NY-21 general election that year.

Castelli responded to DeGrasse’s statements with his own, explaining that the campaign had simply agreed to the debates as invited.

“Three media outlets across NY-21 reached out to our campaign about debates,” he said. “We agreed to participate, and are happy to consider others to expand the geographic reach.”

Castelli said the Congresswoman is using the debates, and accusations of supposed bias in the debate scheduling process, as a way to distract from actually attending those events.

“Whether it’s attacking law enforcement, NY-21 teachers or local journalists, Stefanik continues to show us that she will shamelessly target anyone to protect and advance her career,” he said.

On Tuesday, WWNY, Channel 7, announced it had received agreements from both candidates for a debate in the local Assembly race for the 116th District, between Republican Scott Gray and Conservative Susan Duffy.

They said they had invited Castelli and Stefanik, as well as 24th Congressional District candidates Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-Utica, and her Democratic challenger, Steven Holden Sr, to their own debates, but did not say if any had accepted those invitations.


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