NY-21: The Mysterious Snub of Tea Party's Joe Gilbert

If you’ve been wondering, New York’s 21st Congressional District is still in a rotten mess.

Back in January, Democratic Rep. Bill Owens announced he was retiring.  The New York Times reported:

Mr. Owens is the latest Democrat whose decision to leave Congress may hurt his party’s chances of gaining in the House in November. Democrats have now lost several incumbents in districts where the party is vulnerable to Republican challenges -- including one in Utah and one in North Carolina, both of which the Democrats are expected to lose.

Owens had come to power in 2009 after a special election that followed a harsh ideological war between Republicans and Conservatives. Republicans endorsed moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava, while Conservative/Tea Party voters endorsed a previously unknown accountant named Doug Hoffman.

Conservatives didn’t just endorse Hoffman, they clamored around him. Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty backed him. Conservative radio talker Laura Ingraham and Rep. Michelle Bachmann talked up Hoffman on Ingraham’s radio show. In a nationally followed bitter campaign, Scozzafava dropped out of the race just three days before the election citing “spending” and an “inability to define herself.” Most of Hoffman’s supporters thought this was a great development, until Scozzafava threw her support behind Democrat Bill Owens -- highlighting a nasty chasm between establishment Republicans and strengthened, confident Tea Party Conservatives.

Owens beat Hoffman by a small margin, possibly boosted by unified labor efforts in the last days of the campaign.

Apparently embracing the label “RINO,” Scozzafava later joined Gov. Cuomo’s administration.  And, until she withdrew her name in February, she was also the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to replace Bill Owens.  (If you are confused, you’re not alone.)

The Democratic nominee to replace Owens is Aaron Woolf, a filmmaker from Elizabethtown, NY, best known for his documentary King Corn. He divides his time between a home in the Adirondacks and Brooklyn. Frankly there isn’t much else to say about him.

It seems the time is finally right for a true Conservative to easily take the 21st Congressional District right? Not so fast.

Elise Stefanik had already announced she was running against the Democratic incumbent before he announced he wouldn’t run. A 29-year-old former intern in the Bush administration, she seems to be toeing the party line. As yet, her best elucidated plan seems to be: “We just need people with new ideas.” While it’s clear she graduated from Harvard with honors, it isn’t clear what she earned her degree in. I’m assuming from her D.C. internships, it was likely Political Science.  The scariest part is -- here we have a young person trained exclusively in D.C. politics with no experience in the real world; and because she’s young and female the Republican Party, along with some Conservative groups, are embracing her like a rock star to help widen their proverbial base. The Weekly Standard has published numerous articles on her.

With all the years she supposedly spent in the Beltway, Stefanik still claims to be an entrepreneur at her father’s long-held lumber business. Pro-life groups are endorsing her simply because she’s pro-life; but I have yet to find any real substance in her campaign. A recent article in the Daily Kos detailing some of her D.C. connected campaign contributions was craftily titled, “NY-21: Slick Marketing Campaign aims to turn a wealthy DC Insider into a North Country Woodchuck.”

Another candidate, Matt Doheny, doesn’t sound too promising either. He runs his own investment firm from Watertown, NY, and is on the board of several national companies. He spent millions of dollars of his own money to run unsuccessfully in two previous elections, and is willing to do it again. Beltway insiders already in Stefanik’s pocket are wondering why Doheny is even bothering; even bringing up that his former campaigns were plagued by “ethical issues” including charges of boating under the influence and video of him engaged in some serious smooching with a campaign consultant (while he was engaged to his current wife).

The biggest mystery is why the Tea Party leader doesn’t seem to be getting more traction and endorsements.Joseph Gilbert is a retired Army major who has an impressive résumé as director of emergency services for St. Lawrence County. He spent 24 years in the military, completing three tours in Iraq. He joined the Army immediately after high school, and earned his college degrees while studying nights and weekends on top of his armored personnel carrier. 

His service to his country is well documented and stellar. His degree in Business Administration and Management from the University of Maryland has served him well. A lifelong conservative, he attended the very first Tea Party rallies at Boston Harbor in April, 2009. He talks about things like freedom, liberty, limited government, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, strong national defense, the sanctity of life, and abolishing the IRS. He makes statements such as: “The people are guaranteed the right to keep and bear arms. A true representative republic has nothing to fear from an armed populace.”

Looking at this guy’s website and listening to his interviews, you can’t help but wonder whether 21st Congressional District Republicans and Conservatives have gone completely out of their minds by not endorsing Gilbert in a big way. Now, even though Gilbert entered the race about the same time as Stefanik back in August 2013, without more endorsements he has a dwindling chance to raise enough funds to make a difference against the seemingly already crowned frontrunners.

To make matters worse, former Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman has endorsed Elise Stefanik; which makes one wonder if maybe Hoffman wasn’t “all that” to begin with.In the big push to unite Conservatives and Republicans behind the same candidate and avoid another mess like the 2009 election, both elements seem to be endorsing the wrong people.

The truth is New York State has set the standard in exposing glaring similarities between establishment Republicans and their Democratic opponents. Obviously money, power and connections speak louder than ideology and principles.

Frankly I’m tired of America putting people in office who have done nothing but study how to promote themselves to get into office. I’m tired of people buying a seat at the top. Give me a regular man or woman who fought for their country, studied at night and got their hands dirty in the soil instead of from sleazy handshakes. The Tea Party movement was supposed to be about rejecting career politicians and raising the voice of the common man. Being a Conservative in New York is an almost insurmountable task, but now is not the time to cave in and become a CINO.

Shame on the 21st District.

Susan D. Harris can be reached at http://susandharris.com/