SLC Dems back Castelli for congress

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 3:47 PM EST
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CANTON, New York (WWNY) - The St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee has endorsed Matt Castelli for congress.

Castelli’s stand on gun rights is part of the reason.

Castelli is one of four announced Democratic candidates for NY-21, the north country’s seat in congress. Whoever ends up with the nomination will have the unenviable task of trying to dislodge powerful incumbent Republican Elise Stefanik.

Even though election day, 2022 is still almost a year off, the committee decided to endorse early " because we try to give the best candidate the best chance to actually win,” said Jason Clark, a Democratic Committee official.

“Matt Castelli is that person.”

Castelli is a former CIA officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He was also director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council and served in both the Obama and Trump White Houses.

“Matt’s very well-rounded. He’s got a tremendous amount of experience in international policy, in national security, likewise in domestic affairs, in health care. That’s something the other candidates really don’t have,” Clark said.

Castelli’s position on gun rights was an important factor in deciding to back him, Clark said.

“His beliefs are more in line with those of the voters in New York 21, regardless of whether those be Republican voters, independent voters or Democratic voters,” Clark said.

“As we’ve seen in past elections, that really is one of the key issues that comes to light.”

In 2018, the campaign of Democrat Tedra Cobb to unseat Stefanik was derailed when an undercover video surfaced of Cobb saying she would support banning assault weapons, but couldn’t say so before the election because it would hurt her chances.

Northern New York - which has thousands more Republicans than Democrats - is generally regarded as strongly pro-2nd Amendment and anti-gun control.

In a September interview with 7 News, Castelli emphasized his deep familiarity with guns - as a C.I.A. officer he carried weapons “in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.”

“I was extensively trained and carried a Glock 17 and an M4 rifle,” he said.

“So I will protect the rights of our lawful gun owners, our hunters, our sportsmen and women, to keep their families and communities safe,” he said.

But Castelli also said more work needs to be done “keeping our communities safe from gun violence.”

“We all want to keep fire arms out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. I want to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. If you’re on a ‘no fly’ list as a suspected terrorist, you shouldn’t have access to a gun,” he said.

Castelli said there is a “wide consensus” for “common sense background checks.”

Asked directly if he would support a ban on assault weapons, Castelli said “We can all agree that there are certain weapons that belong on the battlefield, and not necessarily in our communities.”

But he added that politicians have not listened carefully enough to the “voice of the people,” when it comes to guns.

“I will take a close look at any proposal that comes before congress, especially when it deals with guns, and make sure it is the right proposal for the people of this specific district,” he said.

Castelli’s two main rivals for the right to run against Stefanik have also staked out positions on guns.

Former Olympic hopeful Bridie Farrell told 7 News ““We should bring people in and have the conversation.

“Do I think we should have automatic assault weapons and have people walking around shooting? No one does. No one does. But, I’m north country. We fish, we hunt, right? I’m not gonna go take people’s guns away.”

And Matt Putorti, a lawyer, told 7 News in June that he 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.”

Castelli has the most money to campaign against Stefanik, though Putorti has raised the most money, and both Farrell and Putorti have demonstrated an ability to raise funds.

For the three months of July, August, September, and the last two weeks of June, Putorti raised $351,000. For July through September, (and not including the last two weeks of June), Castelli raised $257,000 and Farrell, $159,000.

After they paid consultants, campaign staff and other bills, Castelli had $246,000 left at the end of October; Putorti, $183,000; Farrell, $67,000.

The winner of the Democratic primary will need to raise a lot more money to take on Stefanik, who is a gifted fundraiser. Just this year, she has raised more than $3 million for her own campaign; she has $2.6 million in “cash on hand,” and as the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, it is safe to assume she’ll raise millions more between now and election day next year.

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