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Who is Aaron Woolf? And why is he running for Congress?


Yesterday, Democratic Party chairmen and women from across the vast reaches of the 21st Congressional District held a daylong conclave and when they emerged at the end of the long day, they announced their choice to represent the party in the coming election is (drum roll) ... Aaron Woolf.


According to publicly available information (which is to say, information available on the Internet), Mr. Woolf is a film-maker and organic foods purveyor who splits his time between Elizabethtown and Brooklyn. His organic foods store and deli is called Urban Rustic, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and it looks quite spiffy on its website, His documentaries include the Peabody Award-winning “King Corn” about American farm policy and practices. He has spoken to the Adirondack Council on the need to stop the loss of farming in the Eastern Adirondacks. And he has not made himself available to the press to discuss his impending campaign.

A call to his store/deli yielded the information that he doesn’t spend all that much time there. Calls to leading north country Democrats have so far failed to yield a number at which Mr. Woolf can be reached. He has no campaign committee that anyone can find, even though a Republican frontrunner to be on the ballot in November, Elise Stefanik, has a well-oiled political campaign and has raised a quarter of a million dollars. With sufficient effort, I can reach Ms. Stefanik, or at least someone who can reach her. She’s already been in this newspaper office, met with our editorial board. She has an actual platform, a set of ideals that she can elucidate — whether you like them or not.

Thus far, in terms of organization and quality of candidates based on what we know about them, it’s Republicans 1, Democrats 0. Ms. Stefanik has worked hard over the past year to make her name known from the Vermont border to Lake Ontario. She waltzed through the Republican selection process and although there is almost certainly going to be a GOP primary for the seat, she appears ready to take on all comers. This is known as a serious candidate.

Is Aaron Woolf a serious candidate? A full day has passed since his name was drawn out of the Democrats’ hat, and the closest anyone can come to answering that question is ... maybe. In an interview posted in an online magazine, Mr. Woolf comes across as a thoughtful man and a talented maker of documentaries. He has a passion for agriculture with a small a, and with his Brooklyn store, he has put his money where his heart is — he seeks locally produced, organically grown products to sell in the big city, and he sells Saranac Brewery products from the Adirondacks. Good for him!

But ... how does he feel about Fort Drum? How does he feel about gun control? How does he feel about economic development for Northern New York, especially given his connection to the Adirondack Park? Can he find Rossie and Rosiere, Lorraine and Lousville, Osceola and Ogdensburg, without a GPS or a paid driver? If he was forced to honestly answer the question “How much time do you spend in metropolitan New York and how much time in Elizabethtown?”, what would he say?

For the north country, these are big, big questions. Fort Drum, the largest single employer in the state of New York, needs a strong and devoted champion in the House of Representatives. The integrity and the ability to easily cross the Canadian border in both directions is a vital issue here. The farm bill, and especially its dairy provisions, has to be a major priority for anyone who wants to represent this region in Congress. We don’t know how Aaron Woolf feels about any of these issues. Until he deigns to come out in public, we won’t know.

Beyond that, however, is a greater concern for the west side of the 21st district, which is about the size of Tennessee: if the ballots the voters see on Nov. 4 bear the names Aaron Woolf on the Democratic line and Elise Stefanik on the Republican row, we will be selecting between a part-time Elizabethtown homeowner with his roots in New York City and a conservative Washington policy wonk who hasn’t wanted to be anything but a politician since she was in eighth grade chorus. And no matter what angle I come at that from, I don’t see how the more than 250,000 people of Franklin, St. Lawrence, Lewis and Jefferson counties can win.

There is still an alternative, however, and we should be pushing to make this happen. It’s time to draft Democrat Darrel Aubertine and Republican Matthew Doheny to run in their respective party primaries and assume the candidacies of their parties in November.

Mr. Aubertine, former state legislator, state agriculture commissioner and now local government specialist for the state comptroller, has statewide name recognition and he has proven his ability to win elections. Never forget that he was named chairman of a Jefferson County Legislature on which he was one of just four Democrats. Mr. Doheny has districtwide name recognition, having barely lost twice to Rep. William L. Owens in 2010 and 2012.

Mr. Doheny should keep in mind the favorite saying of the man who gives the elephants their enemas: Timing is everything. The time for Matt Doheny is now. And now is also a prefect time for Mr. Aubertine to step up, be the adult in the room and let his experience guide him to the nomination.

This is not the time for a Woolf-versus-Stefanik contest. It should be an Aubertine-versus-Doheny election, and we need to join hands to make that happen.

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