Aaron Woolf tours Main Street, Saranac Lake

SARANAC LAKE – Aaron Woolf, the Democratic candidate for New York’s 21st Congressional District, toured small businesses Monday morning on Main Street, part of an upswing in campaign stops as the Nov. 4 general election gets closer.

Woolf visited close to 10 businesses, starting with the Community Store where he met its board president, Melinda Little. Little told Woolf about how the business was created by members of the community who did not want a Walmart coming into town. She said Walmart would not have fit well with the community. Woolf agreed, saying, “It wouldn’t be a Main Street” with a Walmart. The candidate bought a tote bag before leaving for his next stop – Blue Moon Cafe.

There he met with five community members and discussed a range of issues like the state-owned Adirondack railroad corridor, outdoor recreation, the economy, agriculture and beer. He was later joined by Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who led Woolf on a tour of other businesses.

“He’s a moderate, centrist guy,” Rabideau said during a conversation with a man on the street, “the kind of guy we need in Congress.”

Scott McGraw of Lake Placid brought up the rail corridor debate in the cafe. Woolf said he has not made up his mind on the issue yet but added that he was formerly on the board of Champlain Area Trails.

“Trails, as an economic driver, is something I’ve been looking at for a long time,” Woolf said.

Lee Keet of Saranac Lake brought up the microbrewery industry during a casual conversation in the cafe. Keet said he has known Woolf for about four years. Woolf was formerly a board member of the Adirondack Council environmental group, and Keet is now.

“It’s really interesting you should bring up beer,” Woolf said while eating a muffin. He then talked briefly about the history of the beer industry.

“By the time I was growing up there were five (major) breweries in the United States,” Woolf said. “I always think of breweries as an economic model.”

Woolf’s voice was soft inside the busy and crowded cafe, and the group leaned their heads in to listen as he spoke. McGraw said his first impression of Woolf was “young, energetic and thoughtful.” Keet described Woolf as a “reasonable man” and a centrist.

Woolf is 49 years old and lives in Elizabethtown and Manhattan. He is a documentary filmmaker who has taken on political issues in his films. He is probably best known for a film called “King Corn” about America’s corn industry and government subsidies.

He has never run for an elected office before and is positioning himself as a moderate and an outsider to a bitterly divided Congress. He said the Republican Party continues to move more toward the right.

“I think the parties are failing us,” Woolf said. “I’m a Democrat because I believe the Democrat Party is more likely to invest in our future.”

At the Blue Line Sports shop, co-owner Matt Rothamel asked Woolf about his Second Amendment beliefs. Woolf said he is against New York’s SAFE Act and thinks guns are “part of our tradition here” in the North Country. At another stop, a supporter of stricter gun control asked Woolf what he thought of the issue, and he answered, “I think gun violence is something we have to address.”

George Hadynski, 50, of Gabriels, asked Woolf if he was in favor of recreational marijuana use. Hadynski said he doesn’t smoke marijuana but thinks people should not go to jail for it. Woolf said he is in favor of medical marijuana.

“We need a more sane drug policy,” Woolf said.

Woolf spoke against minimum mandatory sentencing laws, which require a person to serve a minimum number of years for certain crimes. Currently in the U.S. Senate there is a bipartisan bill being spearheaded by Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, to do just that.

“We need judges that can actually judge, and mandatory sentences have made it hard for them to judge,” Woolf said.

While on the campaign trail, Woolf often compares running for Congress with making a film. He said Congress is the “biggest challenge” he has ever faced, and he says he approaches running for office like a journalist making a documentary.

“All my films have succeeded in bringing people together,” Woolf said.

After his morning in Saranac Lake, Woolf headed to Tupper Lake for another round of campaigning.