Democratic chairs in the 12-county 21st Congressional district have announced their endorsement of a candidate to run for the seat being vacated by retiring New York Congressman Bill Owens. They’ve selected an individual with no political background.
21st Congressional district Democrats have endorsed Aaron Woolf of Elizabethtown in Essex County to run for the House seat. He is a filmmaker best known for the documentary King Corn, a Peabody award-winning film that followed two people learning where their food comes from. The Middlebury College graduate has produced PBS specials including “Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City,” “Dying to Leave: The Global Face of Human Trafficking and Smuggling,” and “Greener Grass: Cuba, Baseball, and the United States.” His work has also been seen on the Sundance and Discovery Channels. He also owns a Brooklyn grocery and café specializing in local foods. He is a public speaker, but has never run for political office. Washington County Democratic Chair Sheila Comar says they interviewed numerous individuals, and Woolf was their unanimous selection. “His experience in his small business endeavors have really provided a very good base for him, because he understands a lot of the intricacies. I think everyone was very impressed with his presentation and his knowledge of the issues and also knowledge of what we have to face in the North Country.”
One of the 49-year-old Woolf’s biggest challenges may be getting voters to learn about him. He has never run for office, and even rival Republican Essex County Chair Ron Jackson, who is also from Elizabethtown, did not know him. “I live in Essex County, but I was not aware of Mr. Woolf . I don’t think I’ve ever met him, and truthfully I don’t know much about him. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more about Mr. Woolf as time goes on. But until I read the paper today, I hadn’t heard of him.”
The Republicans recently endorsed Elise Stefanik, also a newcomer to political campaigning, although she did work in the George W. Bush White House. SUNY Plattsburgh Professor of Political Science Tom Konda says both are unknown to the district electorate. “Both candidates are relatively unknown. Certainly across a district as large as this one, they’re unknown outside of their area. It seems like a wash. It doesn’t seem to do any harm that he is a political novice.”
The 21st district is considered a tossup in November, the race unexpectedly blown open after Owens’ surprise retirement. University of Virginia Center for Politics Managing Editor of Sabato Crystal Ball Kyle Kondik analyzes House races. He finds the endorsement surprising and expects national Democrats to be disappointed. “I think the race is still very close although I think that national Democrats probably aren’t particularly happy with the candidate choice just because this is a person ho is a political unknown. We don’t know a ton about him, other than some of the documentary films that he’s done, but it’s possible that he ends up being a good candidate and we just know at this point. The Republicans’ Elise Stefanik is the probable Republican nominee and she’s not exactly a household name either. And so I think there are generically questions about both candidates in this race. And so I still look at it as toss-up given that the district is so politically balanced.”
Several high-profile Democrats whose names had been floated for a possible candidacy, including former Representative Scott Murphy and former Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, chose not to run. Calls to Woolf were not returned in time for this broadcast.