NY-21 candidate plans to walk the walk

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  • Jeff Koons
    Jeff Koons
    American sculptor
  • Elise Stefanik
    Elise Stefanik
    American politician

Nov. 29—PLATTSBURGH — In a congressional district as large as NY-21, nobody thinks it's possible to get out and see everyone, Lonny Koons says.

But he plans to give everyone that opportunity. Beginning Jan. 3, the retired combat veteran and truck driver says he will commence "Operation: Boots on the Ground," a 73-day, nearly 1,600-mile trek across the district that he says will bring him to every town in the district on foot.

Koons, 43, is set to take off from the Lewis County hamlet of West Leyden and end the operation in Schuylerville, where incumbent North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik lives, on April 25.

"If someone wants to come up and ask me how the weather is, I'll talk to them about it," Koon said. "If they want to come up and ask me about my stances, the Yankees, I don't care. It doesn't even have to be about political (topics).

"I just want to get my face out there to the people and this is the best way I thought to do it."


Koons, a Republican who is looking to challenge Stefanik in a primary next year, said he wants to have face-to-face, honest conversations with people, building off of when he traveled to different towns in the district handing out cups of lemonade over the summer.

The plan to traverse the North Country initially existed in his head, and has now crystallized into an idea presented in an army operations format, a five-part operations order which consists of the situation, mission, execution, service and support, and command and control.

Koons said he has reached out to every State Senator and Assemblymember, each township and every NY-21 congressional candidate inviting them to meet with him or even join him in the operation.

He said he has heard back from municipalities who say they cannot meet with him as it would show favoritism, but he insisted he is not trying to get their endorsements. Rather, he wants to hear about their needs and expectations for their congressional representative.

"That's what I'm going to take to finalize my plans moving forward as far as my stance. I've got very solid plans right now, but I'll be able to finalize them after I get done talking to everyone and say, 'Hey, this is what the people say, this is what the people want.'

"I don't care if it's an independent idea, a Green Party idea, a Republican or a Democratic party idea, it's what the district wants and that's what I'm here to do is represent the district."


Koons is still trying to get "Operation: Boots on the Ground" funded so that, ideally, he can have someone driving an RV camper in front of or behind him that he can sleep in each night.

If not, he admits he may have to rough it in a cold-weather sleeping bag, but pointed to his time stationed in Alaska and his cold weather survival course knowledge.

Koons plans to walk on weekdays except for Presidents' Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and his 25th wedding anniversary, and take weekends off to restock and do laundry.

According to Koons' projected timeline, he'll be hitting towns in Franklin, Essex and Clinton counties from late January to early February, returning to the tri-county area later that month and throughout March. Appearances in the Plattsburgh area are slated for March 1.

He said his employer, R.B. Humphreys out of Rome, is working on a plan that could have Koons answer their emergency line at night so that he can still earn a paycheck during "Operation: Boots on the Ground."


Koons said he is running because, since his retirement from the army, he has realized more and more that average American people are not represented by Congress or the Senate.

"We are represented by almost an elite caste of people who make decisions based on what's best for them and their parties and their own personal interests."

Koons said he voted for Stefanik in the two House elections that have occurred during his residency the district. He said she was the best option, but has gradually become a "party answer."

"I don't give a party answer," he said. "I belong to the Republican Party but they don't own me and I'm starting to hear more and more from the people in the North Country that that's exactly what they want.

"They don't care about the hard-core Republican Trumpster, Biden, whatever follower, they want people who are going to look out for the North Country specifically and that's exactly what I want to do."


Issues Koons said matter the most to him include building accessibility to the North Country and making it a place where people want to stay. He also has plans for revitalizing and rejuvenating Fort Drum to accomplish the same goal, and wants to build up veterans service systems in the district.

Koons believes it's a problem that voters are not required to show identification in order to vote, and has put forward a plan for universal identification, or UID, to consolidate Social Security cards, driver's licenses and other forms of identification. This plan would also include a central database that allows voting by phone through triple verification.

Though he has not come up with a definitive number, Koons supports term limits, but would want to see anything directly affecting the House or Senate, including term limits and pay raises, be put to voter referendum.

Koons subscribes to "political equality," wherein all politicians are equal regardless of what level of government they are involved in.

For example, in the same way people wanted to see former President Donald Trump's tax returns, every elected official should have to turn those documents over, he said, noting that he has posted his military retirement paperwork on his website, and plans to post his W-2s.

In what he described as an anti-Republican stance, Koons said he supports single-payer, universal health care.

"Every American should have the right and access to care."


Regarding Second Amendment rights, Koons believes the Constitution states that Americans have the right to bear arms and does not limit that right in any way.

"I will concede to the fact of, again, a weapons registration and background checks and I think that's a fair tradeoff to be able to have whatever weapon I want."

Koons said he is all about defending the police, but contended law enforcement needs to break with blindly supporting each other no matter what, good or bad.

He wants to see the same punishments for crimes regardless of where they are committed, as well as fair and equal prison sentences.

Koons believes nonviolent criminals should be given the opportunity to solve their problems and, if they are truly reformed, re-enter society so they do not simply go back into the prison system.


Stefanik won a Republican primary in 2014 against Matt Doheny in the first year she ran for the congressional seat. She has not been challenged in a primary since, and in this election cycle, no other Republicans have stepped forward except Coons.

"First off, she's number three in the party; everyone believes that, no matter what, she can't get beaten," Koons said.

"The Republican Party is not going to even acknowledge me until they have to, which when I beat her in the primary I will turn around and look them in the eye and be like, 'I don't need your money or your support because you didn't give it to me now, I'll just do the rest myself.'"

Koons acknowledged he does not have Stefanik's funding or backing, but said the nice thing about having her in the primary race is he doesn't have to worry about anyone else.

"Everybody else is scared of her."

Alex DeGrasse, senior advisor to Stefanik, said the congresswoman is running in the North Country seat and region that she will have represented for eight years.

"She will run on her record of delivering real results and work her hardest, as she does every cycle, to earn re-election with a historic victory."

Email Cara Chapman:


Twitter: @PPR_carachapman

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