Filmmaker is Dems’ pick for Congress

LONG LAKE – The Democratic county chairs unanimously chose Aaron Woolf of Elizabethtown Wednesday to represent their party in New York’s 21st Congressional District.

The chairs interviewed Woolf and Trevor Johnson at the Adirondack Hotel. A third candidate, former Oswego mayor John T. Sullivan Jr. dropped out Tuesday and did not attend the meeting.

Woolf is a documentary filmmaker best known for his films “King Corn” and the PBS specials “Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City” and “Dying to Leave: The Global Face of Human Trafficking and Smuggling.” He owns a grocery store in Brooklyn. He and his wife Carolyn own a home in Elizabethtown on land his family owns. They have one daughter, Eloise.

Woolf declined to answer questions from the Enterprise.

“I’ll just say a brief statement,” Woolf said. “We haven’t even formally begun our campaign. We’re planning to make an announcement in a couple of days.

“I’m incredibly honored and privileged to represent the independent spirit of the North Country, and I really look forward to meeting and talking with all the people in this great district.”

Washington County Democratic Chairwoman Sheila Comar spoke on behalf of the 12 chairs in support of Woolf. She said Woolf will continue Rep. Bill Owens’ work to protect seniors, middle-class families and the Medicare guarantee.

“We did some interviews, and at the end of the day we chose a very, very worthwhile and wonderful candidate who I think will do a great job for the North Country,” Comar said. “We have to have someone who understands this district and is willing to jump in right away.”

It was a long deliberation. The meeting started at 11 a.m., and discussion continued until 5:30 p.m., when the announcement was made. Owens, a Democrat from Plattsburgh, had announced his retirement from Congress on Jan. 14, and Comar said his decision has left them under pressure.

“We’re all sort of working under the gun,” she said. “Don’t forget we are a little behind the Republicans because we have only been doing this for about a month now, trying to get everything going and get into a system of finding someone to run.”

The 21st District’s Republican county chairs last week endorsed Elise Stefanik of Willsboro, a 29-year-old former staffer for President George W. Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan.

For the Democrats, former Congressman Scott Murphy of Glens Falls, Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas of Jay, state Agriculture Commissioner Darrel Aubertine, Assemblywoman Addie Russell and state Deputy Secretary of State Dede Scozzafava were among those who reportedly considered running but opted not to.

When asked by the Enterprise if Murphy and Douglas’ decisions not to run came as a surprise, Comar repeated the chairs only had a short amount of time to prepare.

“If you think about it, if you want to make a life-changing decision in two weeks, it’s a lot to think about.” she said.

Johnson, 28, of Easton in Washington County, was the other candidate who appeared for an interview before the chairs. He is currently studying in Virginia to become a lawyer with a constitutional law focus, and he drove up to New York for the interview. Johnson is a veteran of the Marines who served five years.

He said he was inspired to run after Owens announced his retirement. He admires Owens for being a moderate Democrat.

“He’s a model for success and a great public servant,” Johnson said. “He clearly runs an effective campaign.”

Sullivan, a lawyer now living in Saratoga Springs, was the third candidate who was scheduled to attend the meeting, but he announced he would drop out Tuesday.

“It is my conclusion that any real effort to reform the system on my part should be directed from the outside in, and, consequently, I will not seek the Democratic nomination for the 21st Congressional District,” he wrote in an email.

Sullivan said he decided not to go to the meeting because he disagreed with the process Democrat leaders chose.

“A closed-door, top-down selection process is the wrong way to go about candidate selection, and consequently, I have chosen not to participate in that process,” he said.