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Democrat emerges to challenge Stefanik for Congress

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 5:40 AM EDT
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WHITEHALL, New York (WWNY) - A Democratic challenger to Elise Stefanik for the north country’s seat in Congress has emerged.

Matt Putorti, a 37-year-old lawyer from Whitehall, N.Y., north of Glens Falls, says Stefanik “is ripping apart the fabric of our community by bringing the divisiveness of our current politics to the North Country.”

Putorti released a video announcing his candidacy and chiding Stefanik for her close ties to former president Donald Trump.

Putorti describes himself as a “gay man of faith,” is a practicing Catholic, and says in the video that “I do think that being gay gives a different perspective in leadership which is important.”

“My campaign will concentrate on the issues important to working families: access to good-paying jobs, healthcare everyone can afford, and schools that provide pathways to success for every child,” Putorti said in a statement.

But the statement also slams Stefanik as someone “who attempted to overturn the results of a free and fair election, voted against a 9/11-style commission to investigate the January 6th attack on our Capitol, and has spread dangerous election conspiracy theories and supported the controversial Arizona ‘audit.’”

Hours after the riots of January 6 on Capitol Hill, Stefanik was among the Republicans who continued to challenge the 2020 presidential election results, objecting to the results in Pennsylvania - and would have joined challenges to other states as well.

In an interview with 7 News Monday, Putorti said “When I saw that she, even after watching the attack on the Capitol, continued to vote against certifying election results in Pennsylvania, it really showed to me that she’s trying to undermine democracy for her own political advantage.”

As a lawyer, Putorti’s campaign says he “spent the majority of his career fighting insurance companies who wrongfully deny coverage and has devoted significant pro bono efforts to advancing LGBTQ equality, reducing gun violence, and making the immigration system fair.”

He lived in New York City, but according to his campaign, moved back to Whitehall after the events of January 6 to challenge Stefanik.

Putorti has already put together the team that will run his campaign, including Eric Hyers, described as managing “winning gubernatorial races for Andy Beshear (KY, 2019), Steve Bullock (MT, 2016), and Gina Raimondo (RI, 2014), as well as congressional campaigns for David Cicilline (RI-01, 2012 and 2010).

“Most recently, Eric served as the Michigan State Director for the Biden for President campaign,” according to the campaign.

Stefanik is a formidable opponent; she has won the north country seat in congress four times by large to very large margins and is now the number three Republican in the House of Representatives.

She is a prolific fund-raiser, has been the force behind bringing a cadre of Republican women to Congress, and since allying herself with the Trump wing of the Republican Party has been a regular presence on right-wing media.

Plus, she’s running in a district which is heavily Republican, though that could change somewhat as the state Legislature - controlled by Democrats - redraws congressional district lines later this year.

“I think it would be incredibly difficult for any candidate - let alone this candidate - to dislodge one of the leaders of the Republican Party, particularly in this district, and particularly with no weak spots to attack,” said Alexander Cohen, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Clarkson University.

“She has already called him a radical left wing socialist. She’s already tied him to the “Squad,” tied him to Nancy Pelosi. If you are already inclined to like Stefanik, nothing here is going to change your mind,” Cohen said.

Still, Putorti insisted Monday there is room for him to win.

“I think the difference here is that the Elise that’s running in this election is a different Elise than who’s run in any previous election,” he said.

“Elise started her political career kind of portraying herself as a moderate bipartisan Republican, and in the last year has shifted to align herself - and become a leader of - a very dangerous faction of the Republican Party.”

Stefanik’s current two-year term expires at the end of 2022.

On the issues, Putorti said he supports the 2nd Amendment, but favors a ban on assault rifles - “I don’t think they have a practical purpose in everyday life, and they’re much more dangerous,” he said.

“We’ve seen that most of the mass shootings have been carried out by assault rifles.”

He said the immigration system needs to be fixed, but the U.S. should continue to welcome immigrants.

Putorti said he supports spending money on infrastructure, “but I’m cognizant of the cost.”

Putorti is the second Democratic challenger to emerge against Stefanik. Wilton-based candidate Ezra Watson filed his candidacy with the Federal Elections Commission in March.

Stefanik’s campaign released a statement following Putorti’s announcement:

“Congresswoman Elise Stefanik works hard every day to successfully deliver results to the hardworking families of the North Country especially our small businesses, manufacturers, farmers, seniors, veterans, and military families. She was just re-elected by the highest number of votes in the history of any North Country congressional candidate earning support from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. She will continue to fight every day to ensure the North Country has a seat at the highest levels of government to make our voices heard,” Stefanik senior advisor Alex Degrasse said.

“New York City lawyer Matt Putorti joins declared candidate Ezra Watson as the second radical Far-Left Socialist Democrat candidate who has announced,” he said. “The Stefanik campaign will continue to make sure voters know the choice next November between real results for the North Country versus another Far-Left Socialist who will be a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and Andrew Cuomo’s failed policies. Voters will immediately learn that New York City Far Left lawyer Matt Putorti supported and donated to radical Socialist Squad Members of Congress who support defunding the police, trillions in new taxes, open borders, and gun bans.”

(Editor’s note - an earlier version of this story incorrectly described Putorti as the first Democrat to file for the seat.)

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