The endorsed Democratic candidate for Bill Owens' seat in Congress finally broke his media silence Wednesday, speaking with several North Country media outlets. Aaron Woolf spoke with North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein on a range of issues, from gun control and health care to why a political rookie wants to represent the region. Democratic county chairs chose Woolf to run a month ago, but he had declined interviews until now.
Woolf faces a Democratic primary challenge from St. Lawrence County political veteran Steve Burke for the North Country's 21st Congressional District.
Woolf was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from high school in Princeton, New Jersey, and has lived in many different places. Until last month, he was registered to vote in Brooklyn. But Woolf says he considers Elizabethtown in Essex County home. Woolf spoke by phone with David Sommerstein from the grocery store he owns in Brooklyn.
On living off and on throughout his life in Elizabethtown, NY: "It’s the place I learned to change my oil. It’s the place I learned to change a tire, it’s the place I learned to shoot a gun. It’s, I think, the place that has informed me both personally and politically, far more than any other. “
On why he's running for Congress in NY-21: "I see the North Country, I see the New York 21st District at this crossroads moment…we see on one hand immense disinvestment in the region and the consequences of that — Main Street businesses boarded up and young people not coming back. But at the same time we see these seeds of a new economy. Our legacy skills in agriculture and forestry are being repurposed for a new rural economy."
On criticism after he admitted a recent visit to Watertown, the district's largest city, was his first: “It’s always going to be true that I have a more intimate knowledge of the places near where I grew up. But my goal is to know the entire district with a very high level of intimacy.”
On the economy and what to do about young people leaving: "I really think of public spending on infrastructure as an investment. You know we have to both keep the jobs we have and create the groundwork for new jobs. Rural broadband...that has to be everywhere...cell service, that has to be everywhere. It’s a safety issue for our district. But you know I think infrastructure isn’t just about creating jobs in nanotech or medical devices...it helps those efforts in small scale agriculture as well."
"Real economies are going to draw on our legacy skills. They’re going to come because we support the industries that are here. And they’re going to come because we think long-term, not just in terms of concrete and electronic infrastructure but educational infrastructure as well."
On the Affordable Care Act and possible changes to it: "I’ll be the first to admit the Affordable Care Act is a flawed piece of legislation. I think we need to focus on something else though, as well: that something needed to be done about the rising cost of healthcare in this country. We cannot go back to a time in which people with preexisting conditions could be not be covered. And we cannot go back to a time in which young people had to be kicked off of their parents’ plans, whether or not they had their economic feet under them. Before the Affordable Care Act, we had people facing cancer and bankruptcy at the same time. The rollout was a disaster, and the plan had flaws. My intention is to go to Washington and to fix this plan. Not repeal it. I think repealing it would be a disaster."
On New York’s SAFE Act: "I’m a gun owner and have a freezer full of venison. A lot of my friends hunt not just for sport but for sustenance. We have very high rates of gun ownership in the North Country, and very low rates of homicide. I think gun owners are concerned as anybody, and perhaps more so, about gun violence. But I recognize that many constituents in the 21st district felt this was legislation that was rushed through, disenfranchised and not part of the discussion process, and I would absolutely follow in Bill Owens’ footsteps in going to Washington and supporting the Second Amendment."
On same-sex marriage: "It’s a civil right, it’s settled law. It’s something that people of good conscience can disagree about on a moral or a religious basis, but I view it as a civil rights issue. I think it’s something we’ve made the right decision on in New York. And I look forward to moving past that."
On access to abortion: "I think everyone would agree that we want to have less unwanted pregnancies and there’s an educational component to that. This is an issue between women and their health care providers. And I don’t think the government should have a role in making that decision."