Stefanik, Castelli campaigns spar over Ray Brook
Union president says Stefanik does not “back the blue,” cancelled visits
RAY BROOK — The Federal Correctional Institution at Ray Brook has become a touchpoint in the NY-21 congressional race between incumbent Republican Elise Stefanik and Democratic challenger Matt Castelli as the two candidates are locked in a debate over who “backs the blue” more, each candidate accusing the other of not supporting law enforcement as much as they claim.
Castelli has accused Stefanik of not “backing the blue” because she has not visited with union officials at the prison, who have for months wanted to talk about staffing shortages there. Stefanik’s campaign says she keeps in contact with local corrections officers and has supported them throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, Castelli met privately at the prison with corrections officers and Darrell Pilon, the president of AFGE Local 3882, the union representing FCI Ray Brook’s corrections officers.
Pilon says he’s a Democrat who has voted for Stefanik before, but now he feels she is ignoring corrections officers.
“Stefanik has a federal prison in her backyard but has never cared to tour it or showed interest in helping, although we have reached out to her numerous times,” Pilon said in a statement included in a Castelli campaign news release. “I do not understand how she can ‘back the blue’ but never care about us unless there is a headline, or know nothing about the committee she is on.”
Stefanik sits on the Congressional Bureau of Prisons Reform Caucus.
“Despite Congresswoman Stefanik’s role in the Congressional Bureau of Prisons Caucus, she has repeatedly ignored requests for help from the only federal prison in NY-21 — failing to show up and do her job and jeopardizing the safety and security of our community,” Castelli said in a statement.
Stefanik’s senior advisor, Alex DeGrasse, said this is “a total lie from a deranged Downstate Democrat, desperate for attention, and imploding in the polls.”
“The [Ray Brook] Correctional officers have her cell phone. They speak with her regularly,” DeGrasse wrote in a tweet to Castelli. “While you were downstate in Poughkeepsie, Elise was their biggest advocate during Covid.”
DeGrasse told North Country Public Radio on Tuesday that Pilon “does not speak for the corrections officers.”
He claimed COs are “absolutely angered and outraged that he would support a Kathy Hochul endorsed candidate.”
Pilon disputed this. He said he is elected to represent the COs, and represents their views. He claims he has not heard from any COs angry about his actions.
“My union members are ecstatic their voices are finally being heard on the pressing issues we currently face,” Pilon wrote in a tweet.
“We scheduled three on site visits with her District Representative, and he canceled on us all three times,” he said in a Castelli news release.
“There was no cancelation with the congresswoman. Period,” DeGrasse wrote in a tweet directed to Pilon. “The staff postponed the meeting twice due to a family health emergency. And at your request the staff met with you on May 16th at Elise’s office and we had offered to do it at the prison before that.”
Pilon called DeGrasse’s response “laughable,” “childish” and “spin.”
Pilon said he understands having family issues, and doesn’t want to criticize a staffer over that, but a cancellation is a cancellation and he said he has not gotten the meeting he’s been looking for. He said he met with a Stefanik staffer in Plattsburgh in May, looking over a congressional calendar to find a good date, but he has not heard a word back on a visit since.
An email from a Stefanik staffer on March 29, shows the staffer apologizing for two postponements due to family matters in the past and offering to meet virtually. The staff member says James Weldon, the prison’s previous union president, brought up these staffing concerns to Stefanik in the past and that she was looking at them.
Castelli said Stefanik was “attacking” COs and that she “once again sold out law enforcement.”
“Stefanik’s office has lied about canceling meetings with them, and personally attacked Darrell Pilon … for discussing these public safety and workplace safety failures that Stefanik has ignored for years,” he wrote. “Stefanik has a pattern of attacking law enforcement and only ‘backs the blue’ when it comes with a photo-op to advance her needs.
“We need to ensure that these hard working men and women have the support they need, including safe staffing levels, to do their jobs,” Castelli said in a statement, adding that FCI Ray Brook houses “convicted international and domestic terrorists, murderers and drug kingpins.”