Buck up and face the voters, Aaron Woolf

The long, befuddling silence of Aaron Woolf is a setback for North Country Democrats, erasing some of their gains of the last five years.

With Bill Owens winning here in 2009, 2010 and 2012, and with President Obama winning majorities in the once-solidly Republican North Country in 2008 and 2012, one would think the Democratic Party has much to say to North Country voters. But Mr. Woolf hasn’t said anything.

Instead, he’s been reclusive.

It’s been more than three weeks since the North Country’s 12 Democratic county chairs endorsed Mr. Woolf’s run for Congress. He declined to answer questions at that nominating meeting Feb. 12 in Long Lake, saying he is more of a “press release kind of guy” than an answering-questions kind of guy. Red flag.

Despite that, he didn’t send any press releases, except for a brief announcement the county chairs issued that day. He also didn’t send any emails or answer any questions. Reporters didn’t even have contact information for him or anyone who knew how to get a hold of him. County chairs, when asked, said they didn’t know what to tell us.

That may be changing, but very slowly. Today we got a call from Mr. Woolf’s new campaign manager, but he wouldn’t speak on the record. He said he’d set up an interview with the candidate, but not until a week from today. Yeesh.

We have waited a long time to write this editorial, giving Mr. Woolf a chance to come out of hiding, but three weeks is too long. He needs a jolt.

Congress is not for the timid. Hundreds of thousands of Americans expect much from each member of the House of Representatives, and thereby from anyone who seriously hopes to fill that role. First and foremost, they expect these people to listen to them and to communicate with them. So far, Aaron Woolf isn’t doing much of either.

It’s one thing to make a lousy first impression, but it’s another to maintain it for weeks on end.

Mr. Woolf still hasn’t even answered basic, essential questions like, “Does the fact that you own a grocery store in Brooklyn mean you live there, too?” or, “How much time do you spend at your home in Elizabethtown?”

The public barely knows anything about him, other than that he’s a documentary filmmaker. What’s his backstory? Why is he running for Congress? What does he think are top-priority issues facing the nation and the region? Where is he coming from on military use and spending, budgeting and taxes, federal agriculture aid, health care? How much might he be willing to compromise with Republicans?

He’s said he’ll talk when he launches his campaign, but nearly everyone else understands that one launches a campaign the day one starts actively seeking the job.

He did make a quasi-appearance Tuesday. He attended a closed-door meeting with the St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee at a restaurant in Potsdam and briefly stepped outside the room to talk to reporters, but only to say the equivalent of “No comment.”

“We’re going to make an official announcement in a couple weeks, and after that I will make myself available to the press, I’ll make myself available to everybody,” he said, according to WWNY-WNYF television news.

He did say he’s “going around to the counties in the district, listening to the voices, listening to the people, talking to them.” Is he talking to anyone other than party committee members? That question, like so many others, remains unanswered.

Most amazing of all, he had no comment when reporters asked him what issues in the North Country are important to him. This is not a hard question. We have interviewed dozens of first-time candidates, and even the greenest, most yahoo town board hopeful can answer this one.

It’s true that Mr. Woolf faces some challenges that could be intimidating. He has none of the Obama coattails Mr. Owens had – rather, the president’s popularity has waned – and the federal health care plan, now that it’s underway, has lost more public support than it’s won.

He also faces many serious opponents. The much smaller Green Party has two candidates giving interviews, setting up campaign headquarters, maintaining websites and sending press releases. The Republicans are loaded with actively campaigning, communicative candidates. Some, like Elise Stefanik or Matt Doheny, could draw thousands of Democrats’ votes, and the Greens could siphon off thousands more.

Many experienced, well-respected Democratic politicians opted out of this race. Party chairs ended up having only two options: Mr. Woolf or a 28-year-old graduate student.

But despite all these obstacles, we don’t know Mr. Woolf. Maybe he’s an ace. Maybe we’ll look back on all this and wonder why we doubted him.

For now, however, we urge him to buck up and face the public.

The Enterprise is not a Democratic or a Republican paper; our interest is that voters have a good set of options. For that to happen, there have to be multiple viable candidates. Mr. Woolf needs to start acting like the viable candidate he presumably thought he was when he decided to run, and he needs to do it now. We look forward to seeing what he’s got.