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Watertown businessman Matt Doheny as he gave his concession speech in 2012. Photo: David Sommerstein
Watertown businessman Matt Doheny as he gave his concession speech in 2012. Photo: David Sommerstein

Doheny hopes fourth time's a charm in NY-21 run

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The plot twists keep coming in the effort to win the 21st District Congressional seat that Bill Owens currently occupies. Yesterday morning, Republican Matt Doheny upended the race by announcing his fourth run in the district. Doheny narrowly lost to Owens in 2010 and 2012, and lost a primary bid in 2009.

He joins a crowded GOP field that includes the party's endorsed candidate, Elise Stefanik, and several lesser known candidates. The Alexandria Bay native's decision riled some North Country Republican leaders.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

The last time we saw Matt Doheny in the political spotlight was the night of Nov. 6, 2012. He was standing at a podium in Watertown, his wife at his side, conceding victory to Democrat Bill Owens, who seemed to have the district locked up. At the time, Doheny said, that race would be "it" for him, "and we'll go forward and have a good life." And he says that's just what they thought at the time.

But yesterday, when Matt Doheny called on his cell from the Northway, whisking from TV stations in Albany to another media blitz in Plattsburgh, he said Owens decision to retire shocked him. And with both parties' ordained candidates, Republican Elise Stefanik and Democrat Aaron Woolf, lacking deep North Country roots, Doheny decided it was time to un-retire.

"We stopped counting at 500 all the emails and calls we got encouraging me to run," said Doheny, "and then we took a good hard look and realizing, as an open seat, it's just a different race altogether."

Doheny says he's different this time, too. He has a seven month old son now. He lives in Alexandria Bay and says he's there for good.

What he says hasn't changed is the business savvy that made him a lot of money on Wall Street, or his knowledge of the North Country: "The Plattsburgh area being a suburb of Montreal. The tourism on the river. The colleges where you hang your hat in terms of Canton and Potsdam and the economy built around that. So I think my experience will set me apart both in terms of my private business world and publicly running for office."

Shortly after Doheny's announcement, Stefanik issued a statement. Without naming Doheny, she said she welcomed new candidates into the race while claiming she's the only one with "small business experience." She and her family run Premium Plywood Products near Albany.

Doheny's decision is hardly a surprise, but it did upset some Republican leaders who held an open audition for candidates and got few takers when Bill Owens was still in.

Franklin County GOP committee chairman Ray Scollin was "disappointed in the number of people who were conspicuously absent when the third term incumbent was in the race. Bill Owens cast a large shadow. He was a big candidate to run against."

Scollin says he's friends with Matt Doheny. He ran Doheny's campaign locally two years ago. But this time he's going with Stefanik. Scollin praises Stefanik for running even when Owens was in the race. He says she's a fresh face and a new generation.

He says Doheny had his chances, in the 2009 special election primary, in the 2010 race that included conservative Doug Hoffman—but especially in 2012 when "he had everything. He had the Republican, the Independent, the Conservative nod and he still did not win. And I think in 2014, the message from the 21st Congressional District, as far as Republicans are concerned, is they want something new."

Tea Party favorite Doug Hoffman himself doubled down on his support for Stefanik yesterday. In a press release, he called her "a true Republican." He sniped, "where were all these brave men when the incumbent was still running?"

St. Lawrence County chairman Tom Jenison remains behind Stefanik for now, but he's interested in what the 2014 version of Matt Doheny has to offer, saying, "put that on hold right there. For now, I'm supporting Elise, but at the same time, I'm waiting for Matt to come to see what his platforms are."

Jefferson County Republicans, the only ones not to endorse Stefanik, are likely to be a driving force behind Doheny's campaign. As will Doheny himself, who has a large personal fortune to draw from.

Joseph Gilbert, Jamie Waller, and Michael Ring are also candidates running for either the GOP or Conservative line.

Franklin County's Ray Scollin says the task now is to prevent the viciousness that lost Republicans the seat that was theirs for decades in the first place. "There's got to be ways that we can work with the candidates to make sure that this doesn't become a very bitter nasty primary," he said.

Meanwhile, Republicans can't be feeling much heat from Democrats. Documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf hasn't made any public appearances or spoken with the media since being endorsed by Democratic county chairs more than a week ago.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story listed Kellie Greene as a 2014 NY-21 candidate. Ms. Greene is supporting Elise Stefanik's candidacy.

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