Democrat Ezra Watson talks about his campaign for the New York 21st District congressional seat
Five Democrats are running in New York’s 21st Congressional district primary. Among them is first-time candidate Ezra Watson, who once worked for Raytheon and is now a contingent worker. Watson tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley he has wanted to get into local government but the events of January 6th motivated him to run for the congressional seat held by Republican Representative Elise Stefanik.
I want to run for Congress because I'm deeply concerned about the gradual erosion of our rights, voting rights included, as became evident. And I just wanted to be a bastion of our democracy more or less and put myself into the game mind, soul and spirit and body. I want to help build back our country to where our rights are protected. We are not being eroded and sold out to private entities; where we should have federally guaranteed things in place that includes health care, like clean environment, clean air. You know after seeing Trump kind of erode our, you know, replace our EPA with people who did not get that concept we need to build it back and we need to build it much stronger than it was before to make sure that it cannot be eroded.
You just mentioned that you want to be part of a bastion of democracy. And I also noticed on your website, that you state one of the reasons you're running is that you're "fighting for a new vision for upstate New York." What is your vision for Upstate, for the North Country region?
What we are sitting in the North Country, especially as a result of COVID, Stefanik just not caring about this area anymore, as it is apparent. Many examples of that. Voting, you know, even though she declared I'm going to bring broadband, she voted against the infrastructure bill which basically puts broadband into this area. You know, I've often made the comparison even Siberia has better broadband than we do and for cheaper costs at 100 megabits per second. And we still don't have it but now the Democrats are going to make it happen. They're also going to fix and repair, keep repairs up on the Seaway International Bridge. They're doing all kinds of things that the Republicans have failed to do. But I don't want to make this a Republican versus Democrat fight just yet. Although that does resonate with a lot of people. But my point is that the vision for North Country is that we have within this area so many things that are critical to I would say, many aspects of our American way of life. Agriculture is a big one. There are so many opportunities here that we can't afford to miss. As we're seeing climate change affect agriculture, dairy included, work toward climate solutions, agricultural solutions. The point is, is that it's a beautiful area with lots of potential in so many areas, so many industries, and so many and just in so many positive ways that are being neglected right now that we could totally we can fight we can absolutely find ways to bolster the economy up here.
You tend to be a progressive Democrat, some people would say in the mode of Bernie Sanders.
Yes. And that would be accurate.
If you go to your website you can see that you support things like abolishing all student debt. You support the Green New Deal. You support a carbon tax. You'd like to get rid of Citizens United. You have a broad range of issues listed on your website. To condense things, what are your key priority issues that you are discussing during the campaign and what are the key things that people are talking to you about and how does that interact and interface with your issues?
Very good. I'm glad you mentioned that because it forces me into really defining my campaign based on two major pillars: climate and health care. Health care is many weaknesses have been exposed during COVID. And one of these weaknesses is access to it and being able to fund it for private citizens. I look at health care as a human right not as something that you need to work to get, as I look at food, housing and education. So back to climate. That to me is such a blaring issue right now. You know I have seen in my lifetime the ice caps melt. I have seen in my time here in the Adirondacks the weather changing. I've seen stories of crops altering cycles, algae blooms, you know, in the lakes that weren't there before. Well, this is not a coincidence. It's all climate change and it's gonna keep progressing. As we now know there are ways forward out of this dependence on fossil fuels.
Ezra Watson right now we don't know what the results of redistricting will be. But this district, the 21st district, does tend to vote Republican. What feedback are you getting from voters as you campaign to your issues and your stance on the issues?
I've heard a lot of things about minimum wage increase, which I'm for, $15 minimum wage. We need that. Another issue is taxes. So how we're gonna pay for it? Stefanik loves to answer that question. I suppose the same way we paid for $8 million, $8 trillion war. See we just it's a matter of political reinvestment and capital reinvestment. But one of the things I hear about is lowering tax so it's on the state and local tax level.
Ezra Watson you're planning to set up offices and begin more intense campaigning. Are you concerned that the county chairs have already endorsed one of the other Democratic candidates?
Um, I suppose I should be concerned but at this point it's not a showstopper. I know who it is. Twice they've endorsed Castelli. He has raised a lot of money. And I know they're looking at these as factors in who will win against Stefanik but it's not, it's not, it's not a, it's not deterring me really at this time. But, um, it does seem a little bit early. So I feel like I haven't really had a chance to go out and I haven't, I mean, I haven't done a tour yet. And I haven't really because of the fact that I work full time is going to be a challenge for me, admittedly, and I know that Castelli has overcome these issues with the amount that he's raised. So it's I mean it's it's not over yet. And I just I want a chance to formulate my my message succinctly and deliver it.
How much opportunity have you had to actually go out and travel the district because it is one of the larger districts east of the Mississippi River?
Yeah it is a gigantic district. Most of destinations are like a three hour drive. So what I've been doing now, you know I've just been launching an email marketing. I am taking on some more volunteers. Some great volunteers who are dedicated, who have skills in messaging, graphic design and I'm always looking for more. I'm trying to get a venue in um Plattsburgh within this month. And then after that I would like to go to Ogdensburg, Watertown, all over really. So where it is right now the first stop would be Plattsburgh. When I get a venue secured I'll update our website and I would like to meet people in the North Country because I think I'd get my best information just from meeting people face to face. And I think a lot of it I felt like Stefanik would lose people siding so much with Trump and going against just like she's demonstrated she's not voting with what people need, you know broadband, you know protecting women's rights. I remember she voted for the Violence Against Women Act extension and then the next month she voted to allow stalkers and misdemeanors to be able to not be banned from holding firearms. So it's a little nebulous there. But back to my team. So I have a small team of volunteers and we're currently looking for in person stops starting in Plattsburgh. I really would love to learn more than I do now about this district and all these counties. I've met the Essex County delegates and I've met you know I went to the dinner in Watertown in September, the fall dinner. I met several people there. I met Tedra Cobb who did actually say that she would support me if I won the primaries. I know she hasn't been outwardly progressive but you know I mean it's really a fight for the primaries now and if I can sell people on bold climate action and universal health care then that would be a big step. Those are the main progressive pillars I'm running on right now.
Ezra, this race will intensify after the beginning of the year. How do you plan to define yourself compared to the other Democrats in the primary while still focusing on the eventual and overall general election goal in the congressional race?
Well, I define myself as someone who studies the issues very, very in depth and try to come up to solution to these issues as well as take most of my input in how I would make decisions from directly from the people who live in the 21st congressional district. Issues that relate to rural residents, the Adirondacks. So what defines me as I have, I'm the only one who has declared that I would vote for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. I also support bold action on climate change as in a cessation of fossil fuel investment as well as being fully behind renewables and regenerative agriculture and universal single payer health care.