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Psychiatric Center lands and Matt Doheny: last week’s big stories

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We had a couple of really big stories last week that we will no doubt be writing a lot about in the near future.An effort to get the state to turn over to the city of Ogdensburg 160 acres of surplus land on the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center campus might actually have a chance for success. State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, are partnering to sponsor legislation in their respective houses to make it happen.

The proposal is for the state to turn over the land to the city so the city may sell it to residential and commercial developers, getting it back on the tax rolls and back into some kind of productive use.

The amount of land that has been sitting idle on the campus for decades is staggering. And a good chunk of it is pristine St. Lawrence River frontage that would add significantly to the tax base if it were in private hands.

The idea of getting the state to relinquish it so it can be put back into productive, and taxable, use has been on city officials’ minds for a long time but has never gained much traction at the state level. The state has a hoarding problem when it comes to land, and it’s high time state officials took a look at getting back into private hands every acre not currently being used for government or recreational purposes. If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is serious about alleviating the tax burden in this state, getting surplus state lands back on the tax rolls is a good place to start.The 21st Congressional District race is already shaping up to be interesting. Last week, Republican Matthew A. Doheny of Watertown threw his hat into the ring, even though county GOP committees in the district had already thrown their support behind Elise M. Stefanik of Willsboro. Three other Republicans, Joseph M. Gilbert of DeKalb Junction, Michael F. Ring of Adams Center, and James K. Waller of Lake Pleasant, are also running.

On Thursday, Mr. Doheny was endorsed by the state Independence Party, so regardless of how a five-way primary for the GOP nomination works out, he will still be on the ballot in November.

Meanwhile, the district’s Democrats are supporting Aaron Woolf, Elizabethtown, who we don’t know much about other than he is a documentary filmmaker and owns an organic food store in Brooklyn. Despite his lack of accessibility to media inquiries, we have so far learned he is a north country part-timer with New York City roots, and is a talented filmmaker who appears to care deeply about agriculture.

The response to his name being attached to the Democratic endorsement has been a resounding, “who?”

I don’t know anything about Mr. Woolf other than the few things I just mentioned. But I do know that Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, was the first Democrat to hold the 21st Congressional District seat since the Civil War. If the party wants to keep the seat, wouldn’t it behoove north country Democrats to select someone who is from here, who has some kind of political experience, and has some kind of name recognition?

Mr. Woolf’s New York City ties will be difficult to overcome as he works to convince north country voters that he is one of us and understands the issues we care about. I can’t understand the thought process that got the Democratic county committee chairs to the point of endorsing a candidate who is probably a well-meaning, intelligent man, but will in all likelihood be effectively labeled a carpetbagger by the opposing side before too long.

Mr. Doheny has a clear advantage in name recognition alone. He has already campaigned for the seat twice before, so most of the district - at least what used to be the 23rd Congressional District before reapportionment changed it to the 21st — already knows who he is. The rest of the candidates on both sides of the aisle will have to work hard to overcome that. And even for voters who didn’t agree with Mr. Doheny’s views in the last two campaigns, there is something to be said about the devil you know being the preferred choice over the devil you don’t know.

Democrat Darrel J. Aubertine, former state senator from Cape Vincent, has also been considering joining the fray, and has not set a timetable for when he plans to make a decision. He is at this point the only hope Democrats have of keeping the district. If he decides not to run, Mr. Doheny can probably start writing his victory speech.

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