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Opening forum of congressional race has civil tone

QUEENSBURY — 21st Congressional District candidate Russell Finley was the sole Republican surrounded by Democrats, two to his right and four to his left.

But Finley, speaking at a forum at SUNY Adirondack on Thursday evening, said he didn’t view the arrangement as being outnumbered.

Finley, a beef cattle farmer and real estate broker from St. Lawrence County, compared the forum to a gathering of acquaintances at a restaurant.

“Nobody likes the same food. Nobody likes the same drink. Nobody likes the same sports team,” he said. “Yet we’re all friends.”

Democratic candidates praised Finley for agreeing to join them in introducing themselves to voters and talking about their campaigns.

Thursday’s forum was the first time candidates have appeared together, other than at political party functions.

At this point, Finley is the only candidate that technically is an “opponent” of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, who was invited to the forum but did not attend because of a scheduling conflict.

The 2018 Democratic “opponent” to Stefanik will be determined in a June primary.

Democratic candidates all reiterated previous criticism of Stefanik’s vote in support of House Republican legislation to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, and for not agreeing to particpate in large-audience open public forums about health care.

Democratic candidates said the six of them agree on policy, but have different experiences and perspectives.

Donald Boyajian of Cambridge, an environmental and municipal government lawyer, said his experience as a congressional aide provides an understanding of the legislative process and what is realistic.

He said highway, water and sewer infrastructure would be a priority.

“It’s something a freshman in Congress can actually do,” he said.

Tedra Cobb of Canton, a business consultant and former St. Lawrence County legislator, said she would establish “coalitions” of experts on topics such as health care, the environment and economic development, with representatives from each region of the 12-county congressional district.

“I think that if we were thinking about this district as one whole, then we have the opportunity,” she said.

Ronald Kim, a lawyer from Queensbury and former Saratoga Springs public safety commissioner, said he would push to extend the time limit that debtors can file complaints against lenders for making false statements, and he would push for civil rights for lesbian, gay and transgender individuals.

Kim said he has experience collaborating with Republicans in government.

“I have done that,” he said.

Emily Martz of Saranac Lake, an economic development adviser, said her experience across the region on small business and “clean energy” initiatives has provided insight.

“Let us make sure there are market incentives for implementing clean energy,” she said.

Patrick Nelson of Stillwater, a political activist and Bernie Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, said he will not accept campaign contributions from corporate political action committees or lobbyists, and he touted his experience on the staff of two previous regional congressional campaigns.

“I can’t promise you that we won’t make mistakes in this campaign, but I can promise you the mistakes we make will be new ones,” he said.

Katie Wilson of Keene, a political activist and business owner, said her perspective as a single-mother who started in business at age 21 is valuable.

Wilson said part-time and non-traditional students should not be left out of college finance policy.

“We can draw the people of the district together,” she said.

Finley, the Republican, said when proposed legislation is posted online, he would ask constituents to read a page of the legislation corresponding with the constituent’s Social Security number and offer their suggestions.

Reading the whole bill and commenting can be daunting for any one individual, he said.

About 200 people attended the forum that the newly-formed group, Citizens Acting Together for District 21, organized, and 171 people watched at least a portion of a live stream Facebook webcast.

The group has about a half-dozen members in Warren and Saratoga counties.

“We’re hoping tonight’s event will get you excited and engaged to volunteer on one of these candidate’s campaigns,” forum organizer Bob Lippman said at the beginning of the forum.

“It’s not a debate tonight. … It’s not a rally,” he said.

Wendy Johnson, assistant professor of political science at SUNY Adirondack, was moderator of the forum, the latest example of a campaign that has been has been unconventional both in its early start and number of candidates.

Public candidate forums typically do not commence until after the county political committee endorsement process is completed, which won’t begin in earnest until after this year’s municipal elections in November.

Hurricane notebook: Personnel set to depart; cots donated; Whitehall native describes scene

As hundreds of eastern New York residents prepare to head to Texas to help with recovery from Hurricane Harvey, a Whitehall native has had a front-row seat to the damaging storm.

“Our house didn’t flood, but a block over, our neighbors had two feet of water in the yard, and when we were out for a drive another block over, there were couches, wallboard and other things out by the sidewalk,” said Melissa Watson, daughter of former Whitehall school Superintendent James Watson.

While Watson is already in the disaster area, at least two local residents will be leaving Saturday as part of the American Red Cross relief efforts, and workers at Telescope Casual Furniture in Granville spent Friday packing more than 100 chaise lounges that will be used as cots in an emergency shelter in Deer Park, Texas.

“There are a lot of things people don’t know about Houston,” Watson said in a telephone interview Thursday. “It’s the fourth-largest city in the country, and it’s really spread out. People think of downtown Houston, but there are so many other towns and neighborhoods.”

Some of those places were seriously affected by the hurricane, and others went unscathed.

Watson said, personally, she was more impacted by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

“The flooding was pretty bad then, but not like Harvey,” she said. “But I was living in an apartment complex, we were without power for three weeks and could not get out of the parking garage.”

Watson was also in London during the 2005 subway bombing, but was delayed from getting on her train because of laundry issues at her hotel.

This time around, she avoided the worst again.

“We have friends who lost their homes, friends who were flooded out and friends who had other problems,” she said. “We were lucky.”

Vacation in Texas

When Lisa Clark went to work Tuesday at the Washington Center nursing home in Argyle, she had something to tell her boss.

“I told them I wanted to take my two weeks vacation to go help in Texas,” said Clark, a Gansevoort resident who is the assistant nursing director. “The next thing I knew, my administrator was telling me ‘no,’ I didn’t need to use my vacation time. They would pay me for when I went.”

Clark and her husband, Charlie, a firefighter, were among almost 80 people trained at the Cool Insuring Arena on Wednesday, and they are scheduled to fly from Albany to Austin on Saturday afternoon.

Clark said the Red Cross contacted her, and she was excited to be able to go.

“We have always volunteered locally and always wanted to do it on a bigger scale,” she said. “Now that the kids are older, we can do it on a national level.

“I was surprised when they said they needed health-care workers so badly,” Clark said. “I always thought there would be plenty.”

Clark said a lot of people are excited for her, but she explained that she is doing this because it needs to be done.

“They tell me how proud they are of me,” she said. “But that’s not why I am going. I watch the news. I see what’s going on down there.”

A way to help

Heather Paquette, marketing coordinator at Telescope, said her company put the word out on social media that it had chaise lounges available that could be used as cots.

“We were contacted by a church in Deer Park, Texas, and they said they could use them,” Paquette said Friday as she and workers at the plant put the final touches on the shipment.

“We are sending down whatever we can,” she said. “We just want to help.”

Wilhelm indicted on three drug charges


QUEENSBURY — Former high school sports star and athletic trainer Gordon “Denny” Wilhelm has been indicted on three charges by a Warren County grand jury and is scheduled to be in court next week.

Wilhelm, 28, who worked with high school athletes as part of The Athletic Academy at Global Fitness in Glens Falls, will be in Warren County Court on Wednesday to answer three charges.

Wilhelm, who pleaded guilty to third-degree possession of heroin in 2012 and completed the Warren County Felony Drug Court process, was arrested Aug. 26 following a traffic stop on the Northway.

State Police said they found more than a pound of cocaine.

He faces two felony charges, including the state’s most serious drug charge, the felony of first-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. He was also charged with third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell.

The grand jury added an additional charge of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor.

The grand jury indictment only covers Wilhelm.

Catherine Peacock, 30, of Glens Falls, who was in the vehicle with Wilhelm at the time of his arrest, was charged by police with the same two felonies as Wilhelm, as well as fourth-degree possession of a narcotic drug and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

She is currently due in Queensbury Town Court later this month, but there is a possibility she will be indicted as well.

At Glens Falls High School, Wilhelm played on the same state Class A runner-up team as former NBA player Jimmer Fredette in 2007. He also played football at the University of Albany and at Castleton University in Vermont, as well as for the Glens Falls Greenjackets.

Fredette’s father, Al, is working as a consultant with the gym and, along with Wilhelm’s parents, spoke with gym members Monday night to tell them the business would continue to be open. They also met with Glens Falls athletes, including members of the 2016 Class B state championship football team.

Al Fredette, who spoke to reporters, said Wilhelm had used his work at the gym as part of his recovery from drug addiction.

“There were two Dennys — the one we knew and loved, and the addict,” Fredette said.

Family members said Wilhelm had not been in the gym for the month before his arrest, because he did not want his athletes to see him struggling again.