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Deryl Kolanko, at right, owns the Potsdam Agway. He explains his business to Congressman Bill Owens (left) and Democratic candidate Aaron Woolf (right). Photo: Sarah Harris
Deryl Kolanko, at right, owns the Potsdam Agway. He explains his business to Congressman Bill Owens (left) and Democratic candidate Aaron Woolf (right). Photo: Sarah Harris

Owens endorses and campaigns with Aaron Woolf in NY21 race

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Democratic and Working Families Party candidate for Congress Aaron Woolf was in St. Lawrence County yesterday. He was campaigning and he wasn't alone. Current Congressman Bill Owens, who plans to retire at the end of this term, joined Woolf for an official endorsement as they visited local businesses.

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Reported by

Sarah Harris
Reporter and Producer

The greenhouse at the Potsdam Agway is a little oasis of spring filled with African violets and hanging plants. People are milling around, waiting for Congressman Bill Owens and Democratic candidate Aaron Woolf to arrive.

Deryl Kolanko owns the Potsdam Agway. He says he doesn't know much about Woolf, the new guy. "I'm putting politics aside, whether it's Democrat or Republican. We'll find out who this person is and we'll learn some more."

A lot of people don't know much about Woolf. He's a documentary filmmaker and a political newcomer. He splits his time between New York City and Elizabethtown, in Essex County, although he's spending most of his time in Elizabethtown these days. And he says he's committed to the region's businesses and farms.

"I want to learn about how business succeeds throughout the district and particularly small-scale agriculture, which we were talking about; and it's fitting to talk about that in an Agway," Woolf said.

Woolf and the Congressman Owens are eager to talk to Kolanko about his business: things like whether small farmers are buying from him, what he stocks from Canadian suppliers. They wander through the greenhouse into the pet section and over to the shovels. All morning, Woolf is watching Owens, seeing how it's done.

Congressman Owens is kind of like Mr. Miyagi, the greying, stately teacher in "The Karate Kid." And Woolf is the young grasshopper, eager to learn. "It's kind of an apprenticeship for me and I'm really grateful. Nothing can be a bigger honor than to follow in Bill's footsteps, and I think his emphasis on job growth is what any reasonable politician running in this area should be doing."

Congressman Owens officially endorsed Woolf yesterday. He says Woolf is a good fit for the North Country. "He's out here doing this, he's trying to learn what the concerns are, he's focused on jobs and the economy, he's got the right view relative to immigration reform, he's got the right view on the Ryan budget—that budget would harm hospitals, seniors, students."

Owens and Woolf make their way to Potsdam's main drag, to Northern Music and Video. Lisa Criscitello is waiting in line. She doesn't know who Woolf is, either. "I'm a bit out of the political loop these days," Criscitello admits with a smile. "I'm a busy stay-at-home mom... so."

Busy is probably a little bit of an understatement. Criscitello has 10 kids. So the region's economy matters to her. "I think small businesses," Criscitello says, are what St. Lawrence county needs. "Locally-owned, small business. Stop buying so much imported stuff, and use the resources we have here and take advantage of them."

It's still early in the campaign for the 21st Congressional District. Republican candidates Elise Stefanik and Matt Doheny are likely facing off in the primary. Stefanik plans to challenge petitions that Doheny filed for the Conservative and the Independence Party ballot lines.

And Green Party Candidates will have a primary, too. Glens Falls bakery owner Matt Funicello is running against St. Lawrence County activist Don Hassig.

And Woolf faces a challenge on the Democratic side as well. Political veteran Stephen Burke from Macomb hopes to run in the primary. Democratic leaders in St. Lawrence County are challenging his petitions in court.

Woolf has established himself as a serious contender as far as campaign finances go. He has more than $400,000 in cash on hand. That's in the ballpark of what Doheney and Stefanik have, too.

The fact that people don't seem to know who Woolf is? He says that'll change. "Well, I'm going around the district because I want people to know me," Woolf says, "and as importantly, I want to know what their issues are."

His next stop: Sergi's for lunch, and then on to Malone.

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