A native of Saranac Lake and resident of Lake Placid, Dylan Ratigan has decided to run for New York’s 21st Congressional District seat. After years of talking about politics and finance over cable television, he wants to bring his beliefs, principals and explosive personality to the floor of the House of Representatives.
He officially announced his candidacy for Congress at the Harrietstown Town Hall on Wednesday, making the fiery journalist, TV host, author and businessman the 10th Democrat vying for the seat.
Ratigan earned a name for himself as “Cable TV’s Angriest Anchorman” on MSNBCs “The Dylan Ratigan Show” and CNBC’s “Fast Money” with his biting criticism of establishment politics and Wall Street economics, but in an interview at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise office in Saranac Lake on Tuesday, he said he is now funneling his anger and frustration toward finding solutions to the problems he has ranted about for so long.
“I have felt a profound shift in myself as a human being that allows me to have much more understanding why people who have different context and different interests than my perception do the things that they do,” Ratigan said. While his book “Greedy Bastards” had harsh words for bankers and Wall Street executives, he has now focused his frustration toward the systems that promote their behavior instead of the people who follow the systems.
Ratigan’s intensity is natural and apparently hereditary. His grandfather, pharmacist Frank Ratigan, was Saranac Lake’s mayor from 1957 to 1961 and was known for wearing creative hats, handing nips of whiskey to snowplow drivers and once slipping on boxing gloves in a meeting with the board to represent his fighting spirit.
Dylan said that when he graduated from Saranac Lake High School, “I wanted to participate in the world in the biggest way that I could.”
Raised by a single mother, Adrienne, then a psychotherapist for Essex County mental health services, Ratigan said he understands how people can struggle with poverty in Saranac Lake. He performed at Pendragon Theatre, played football in high school and worked several paper routes for the Enterprise all around town.
After going to Union College in Schenectady, he left upstate New York and established his journalistic career at Bloomberg, later moving to cable television and shining a spotlight on national issues.
Such was his critical perspective that he says he did not vote, because he was always disappointed with the choices he was presented. Now, he said, he not only wants to vote but run for office.
He said he lived a high life as a TV host but knows money doesn’t equate with happiness. He quit CNBC in 2009 out of frustration that the federal government didn’t fix the financial system when it bailed out banks. He shifted his focus to government and politics at MSNBC, but quit that on the eve of Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013, because he was was tired of being frustrated with the state of the government and wanted to make a difference through the business world.
“I am a believer in capitalism as defined by using capital — money, people, infrastructure, resources — to create value for other people,” Ratigan said. “My issue with the (2008-09) financial crisis is that it showed that what we have is actually not capitalism. What we have is a system that creates money, that then is used as a toy. That toy, that is money, gets accumulated in smaller and smaller areas because the policies in our government encourage that to happen.”
After quitting MSNBC he moved back to Lake Placid, where his mother still lives, and started Helical Holdings, a company that employs veterans to run solar-powered, hydroponic farming modules and sells produce in grocery stores. Helical, he said, is a kit for providing the five key resources for global security: food, water, power, communications and jobs.
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He said all societies exist in one of three realities: Resources, money and talent are either coming into the community, staying static or leaving. These realities affect everything — health care, education, business, environment and overall life — and are affected by governmental policies.
Helical has had mixed success. Though he is massively pleased with the kit that was developed to produce and utilize resources, he said it has been difficult distributing the small company’s produce to large grocery chains. He said the company has been losing money, much of which came from his own pocket. He left management of the company to his business partner in late December.
Now that Ratigan wants to make a difference in leadership on the federal level, he said NY21 was the right way to do it. He grew up in the district, knows the people who live here and wants to solve the problems it faces, especially its unemployment, which he said is double the national average. In fact, it’s more like one-and-a-half times. The national unemployment rate was 4.1 percent in January, according to federal data, whereas the NY21 counties’ rates ranged from 4 to 7 percent, according to the state Labor Department.
Ratigan is well connected in Washington and on Wall Street, setting him up for more donations, exposure and contacts than any of the other Democratic candidates.
The other Saranac Laker in the race, Democrat Emily Martz, released a press release Tuesday, slamming Ratigan for being a wealthy, famous male: “‘Doing the same thing and expecting different results is definition of insanity.’ It’s the age of women, and it’s the age of the regular guy in rural America working hard to feed his family. We’ve had enough of self-serving, wealthy individuals taking advantage of the North Country, peddling their wealth and notoriety to bolster their own agenda. We have real challenges and we need a real North Country woman and leader to deal with them. That’s who I am, and that’s why I’m running. Mr. Ratigan, welcome to the race.”
In Tuesday’s interview, Ratigan got fired up about issues such as gun control (He said the proliferation of assault weapons threatens people’s constitutional right to “domestic tranquility”), but he did not criticize incumbent Rep. Elise Stefanik or the field of Democratic and Republican candidates already running. He did, however, say why he is best person to do the job.
“Unlike other people who do have access to money and power, who then become a function of that money and power in order to advance their careers, I have proven myself as somebody, through my decisions in resigning from CNBC and MSNBC, as somebody who is willing to hold onto my integrity and my values in the face of that access,” Ratigan said. “I don’t believe there’s another person in this race that has my skills, my understanding of this district and my capacity to tolerate harassment — like somebody from Saranac Lake or as cable news host — that I have.”
He also didn’t criticize President Donald Trump. Ratigan said he respects Trump’s ability to identify problems that create fear and insecurity in our country, and that while he disagrees with Trump’s solutions, he appreciates that Trump is bringing many long-dormant issues to light.
The skills Ratigan says he can bring from Saranac Lake to Congress are his “big mouth,” a tolerance for bad weather and an understanding of the struggle many constituents have to survive daily.
Ratigan said he shifted his attention to politics to bring district concerns and ideas to the Capitol and then have a direct, consistent, daily public debate with sitting congresspeople, senators, members of the federal government and the legislative branch, using the Congress floor as his main mode of communication and utilizing experts to find solutions.
“The level of expertise across any subject that you’re looking to resolve in this country is remarkable,” he said. “What’s absent is a system of gathering and synthesizing those ideas and bringing them to the surface in a way that can be understood by other people, which is my greatest skill. I’m not running because I know the answers, I’m running because I know other people know the answers, and I know that I’m extremely skilled at finding those answers.”
He said he believes America has the opportunity to improve its leadership now, more than ever, and he wants to be one of those leaders setting the moral and economic pace for the nation.