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NY-21 Congressional candidate Democrat Matt Putorti discusses campaign

Matt Putorti
Facebook: Matt Putorti
Matt Putorti

Matt Putorti is one of five Democrats hoping to replace Republican Elise Stefanik in New York’s 21st Congressional District. Stefanik, in her fourth term, is now the No. 3 House Republican. During a barnstorming trip across the district this week, Putorti stopped by WAMC’s North Country Bureau in Plattsburgh. He says people across the region are most concerned about three issues.

I think the three things that people talk to me most about are internet access. Because still 20% of the current New York-21, 20% of that district still does not have access to high speed internet. So it is affecting a lot of people, a lot of businesses. So infrastructure and internet. The second is affordable housing. A number of people have talked to me about how the housing stock that's available is either very expensive or the stuff that's a little bit less expensive and a bit more affordable just isn't often of the right quality. Or sometimes it just isn't even enough. And the third, probably not surprising, is jobs. Making sure that people have, that this district has and people have access to, jobs that pay them well and that respect their dignity as a worker. So internet, housing, jobs.

In past campaigns healthcare was a big issue. Are you finding that cropping up or is that something that these other three issues have really surged above that at this point?

Certainly people are talking about access to affordable health care. Making sure things like that Medicare can negotiate prescription drug prices which was in the last version, the House passed version, of the Build Back Better Bill, which would be fantastic if it stays in. Making sure that Medicare also includes health, ah, eyes, vision, hearing, making sure all of that and dental is included. So yeah so people are certainly talking about those issues as well. And we're starting to see some movement in these in these bills passing through Congress right now and hopefully they will stay in and we'll continue to make progress on those.

Speaking of the infrastructure bill at least the first two that you mentioned hopefully would have some relief with the infrastructure bill that Congress has passed. The internet access, the broadband funding that is supposed to be in there is supposed to help some. Affordable housing hopefully some money might come out of that. How optimistic do you find people are about the bill that has so far gone through Congress or do they want more?

So the infrastructure bill that passed both the House and the Senate, the hard infrastructure bill, roads and bridges, internet access, a lot of climate change and clean energy provisions in there as well, I think people are very excited about that bill because it addresses all of those things and it also will create jobs. I mean even Gary Johnson from the Chamber of Commerce said 90% of businesses support this infrastructure bill. So I think people are very, very excited about this. Unfortunately it is a bill that Elise voted against, Elise Stefanik voted against. And that's really troubling and disappointing to me because this this money is money that is so desperately needed for this district. It will also create jobs. So I think people are optimistic. And I'm very excited to see the money come to the communities and start to be implemented, to see what that money can implement, and see if there's still more that we have to do after that. But I think this is a really, really powerful start. And we all should be very proud that this bill got passed despite Elise's vote against it.

If you were to be elected as the Congressperson, you know, it's kind of something that's already been done. So how would you work off of it then and progress things regarding infrastructure and some of these things that they're talking about that have been addressed in this bill if you're elected in the future?

Sure. So I think the bill will certainly address some problems but it's not going to fix everything. So we still will have work that we need to do. And we'll see, we'll be able to identify in a year or so what those gaps are. We also have to see how the money is going to be allocated. And we need to make sure that if there are still decisions at that time, you know after this election, that the person is advocating for money to come to this district, to make sure that rural America particularly is not left behind from this bill. So to make sure that we have a strong advocate for that as well. But I again, I do think it's a very great step forward, but it's not going to solve everything and so we'll still have more work to do.

We've seen the emergence of a new COVID variant: Omicron. Do you believe the federal government, including Congress, should take more aggressive moves to deal with the pandemic whether we have a new variant named Omicron, whether we get another variant or whether we find out these variants aren't that bad and we go back to Delta. What do you think the federal government should be doing to deal with a pandemic?

We’re learning all of is it the Greek alphabet?

It is the Greek alphabet yes.

We're learning we're all learning our Greek through all through all of these variants. Look, I think we have to begin with the point that we're all tired of the pandemic. I am, certainly. And I think we all want it to be over. But to do that, we have to work together. And that means making sure that we still continue to get people vaccinated and boosted if, if that needs to be the case. And so I do think that there is a role for government to make sure that we are doing whatever we need to do to get out of this pandemic because we all want life to return to what it was like before, before the pandemic.

So how should the federal government approach that from your perspective because we have some people who very adamantly do not want to get vaccinated?

I think if people have health reasons for not getting vaccinated, I think if people have in, there are religious exemptions as well those are reasonable ways. But all I hope that we can message this as all of the scientific evidence that we have shows that these vaccines are safe and that they're effective. And that really each of us getting vaccinated, I like to think of it as: it is an act of service to the people around me. It certainly will help keep me safe. But it also makes sure that my neighbors and my family and all of those people with whom I interact are also kept safe. And so we need to, that's, that's what the message to me has to be is this is it is not about somebody telling you what to do. It is doing what we all need to do to look out for each other to keep each other healthy and safe and as I said to ultimately get out of this pandemic.

The debate over vaccinated versus unvaccinated in some ways reflects the partisanship that we see in Congress. Why do you want to go to the building that is kind of the illustration of hyper-partisanship in this country?

Yeah the viewers can’t see that I'm smiling as you ask this question: why are you doing this thing? For me it's too important not to. I think, you know, I have a great love of this country. I am so grateful for the opportunities that it has provided to me, it has provided to my family. My great grandmother immigrated to the United States when she was a child and by the time that she was married and had three children, they didn't have a lot of money, she opened a small business. And my parents still own that today. That's an incredibly American story, right? That this woman, this short Italian woman who couldn't really speak a lot of English in the 1920s starts a business that almost 100 years later is still in operation and has employed over its life hundreds of people and so I am so grateful for that story. And so I do, I am concerned about the level of partisanship, but that my love of country trumps my concern for how partisan we are. And I want to make sure that this district has a representative who will advocate for them. I grew up here. Like I said my family's been here for generations. I've lived longer in this district than I've lived anywhere else. And so to me also this is an expression of the service. We were talking about the vaccine mandates as an act of service. This to me also is another act of service to the community that to whom I am so grateful.

You are not the only Democrat that's running in New York-21 to try to go to Congress. How do you separate yourself and make yourself shine as the person to win the primary?

Well, you know for me it is important that that the Democrats win, win this election. But how we differentiate ourselves or how we talk to voters? What I like to say is, you know, as I just mentioned, I think I'm the only person from any party in this race who grew up in this district, who has a record of voting in this district, whose family's been here for generations, who's lived here longer than I've lived anywhere else. And so I think that gives me a unique perspective on who the voters are. Who the people who live in this district are. What animates them. What the issues that are important to them are. So that is you know, I think unique to my candidacy. Also I think we look to see who can win. Before this campaign I was a lawyer and I spent most of my career suing insurance companies who failed to pay insurance claims. And so I'm used to taking on tough fights. I'm not scared by them. I'm undaunted. In fact maybe they encouraged me a little bit more. So I'm excited by the challenges.

You have to win a primary against a couple other Democrats. So at this point, at this stage, are you running against the Democrats or are you running against the incumbent seated congressional representative?

I'm going to say we are running a campaign for the people of this district. And some of that, a lot of that is focused on making sure that they have good representation which I just don't see in in Elise. And so we are doing things simultaneously. We are making sure we hold her to account. But we are also speaking to the issues that affect people's everyday lives here. Issues that are being neglected by the current representative. So we're doing both. But at the end of the day this is the campaign for the district. And I don't just want to hear from Democrats, right, like all of the people of this district the things that they're experiencing. I want to hear whether it's a Republican or unaffiliated or a Democrat or somebody who's never voted before. What are the things that are important to you and how can we fix them? Because that's to me at the end of the day what this job is about

New York 21st District Congressional candidate Matt Putorti faces Ezra Watson, Bridie Farrell, Keith Sherrill and Matt Castelli in the Democratic primary. Republican Lonny Koons is planning to embark on a 1,600-mile walking tour of the district in January.

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