Castelli speaks on COVID, basic needs, voting rights

Feb. 3—PLATTSBURGH — If elected to represent New York's 21st Congressional District, Matt Castelli says his approach to messaging on the COVID-19 pandemic would be to remove politics from public health.

"We're now two-plus years into a global pandemic and we need to work together to get us beyond this pandemic, to end COVID, to return to a certain sense of normalcy, and the only way we can do that is through working together," the Saratoga Democrat told the Press-Republican.

"We need to place trust and confidence in the public health officials and work together with the communities to make sure we're keeping people safe, to make sure we're keeping them healthy, but we're also keeping our schools and our businesses open.

"That's got to come from a collaborative spirit, not a divisive hyper-partisan political one, because that has only undermined our efforts to actually get beyond the pandemic."


Castelli, 40, held a press conference in Plattsburgh Tuesday to announce former Congressman Bill Owens' endorsement of his campaign to unseat incumbent Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville).

So far, the former CIA officer and counterterrorism official has also gained support from seven of the 12 county Democratic committees in the district, including Clinton and Essex counties, as well as 11 of the county party chairs.

Three other Democrats have formally announced their campaigns: Ezra Watson of Wilton, Matt Putorti of Whitehall and Bridie Farrell of North River.

While campaigning in the North Country, the top issue Castelli has consistently heard about is the affordability of basic needs like housing, child care, health care, food and groceries, and transportation.

Castelli plans to take stock of constituent concerns in the newly-added portions of the district as his campaign develops policy platforms and examines what solutions to support. Based on redistricting maps released and passed by the state legislature this week, NY-21 would encompass all or parts of six more counties.

Still, Castelli believes there is an opportunity for investment and collaboration from a public-private perspective as a way to address these issues.

"I like to talk about them in pro-growth terms, that an investment in child care in our community is actually an opportunity to help grow our economy," he said.

"That's a worthy investment from a federal, state, local perspective where government and private industry can come together and support those solutions," he added, noting that he had discussed that with North Country Chamber of President Garry Douglas.


On the Build Back Better act, which has stalled in the U.S. Senate, Castelli said certain individual provisions that were popular are worth examining.

"But as of right now, the massive package is no longer a real thing."

He would have voted in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Stefanik voted against.

At the time, the congresswoman argued the package would prioritize "large, Democrat cities" over rural areas like the North Country.


Castelli said his approach to voting rights is to protect and secure the right to vote, making it easier for people to do so, not harder.

Asked about the voting rights legislation facing an uncertain future in the Senate, Castelli said he would take a look at any piece of legislation in front of him and evaluate it based on whether it represented the needs and interests of the North Country.

"At the end of the day, it has less to do with my personal perspective on matters and whether we're representing the needs of the constituents," he said.


When it comes to gun rights, Castelli believes the Second Amendment is a key component of the Constitution which he swore an oath to protect.

"I will always seek to protect the rights of lawful gun owners, our sportsmen and women, ... hunters, folks who want to protect their families and their communities."

Commonsense solutions where there is wide agreement, like background checks, can be explored, Castelli said.

"But we're not making progress on it because of the hyper partisanship that our current representative represents and how beholden they are to special interests."


On his commitment to the district if he does not win the congressional seat, Castelli said he plans "to continue to be an active member of the community and making sure that the voice of North Country residents is uplifted and that we continue to underscore that the needs of the electorate matter more than the needs of someone's personal ambition here."

"But I have every intent of winning this seat," he added.

Email Cara Chapman:

Twitter: @PPR_carachapman