Matt Castelli, Democratic primary candidate for New York’s 21st Congressional District, sat down for an exclusive interview with NYVTmedia via Zoom on March 25, a day before the three-month mark of the primary vote on June 26.
Castelli, of Wilton, has built his campaign on the promise of collaboration, something he feels has been missing under the leadership of current Congresswoman and Republican Elise Stefanik.
“To win, we’re going to have to run a different kind of race than some of the races that have run in the past,” Castelli said. “For a Democrat to win, I think it’s going to take a different type of Democrat, like myself, and I’m the kind of Democrat that can build the coalition that is necessary to win.
“Certainly, with a unified Democratic party in support of our campaign, I am grateful for the support that we have had. We are certainly going to need to mobilize progressives, moderates, labor in support of our efforts, but that will not be enough. We are going to need to build a campaign, and I am able to do this, that includes a growing number of independents that don’t feel that they have been well-served by either political party, and I’m not sure that I can blame them,” Castelli said.
“For someone who advocates for needing to put our country and community before our party’s interests, that has resonated with a growing number of independents. We’re also going to be in a position to bring on board a lot of Republicans. I talked to Republicans in our district that do not feel well-served by Congresswoman Stefanik. She represents an extremist faction of the Republican party that they feel they no longer have a home in, and they certainly are going to have a home in this campaign.”
So far, Castelli has gained the support of all 18 Democratic party leaders in the NY-21 congressional district, including Stefanik’s predecessor, former NY-21 Congressman Bill Owens. He said he has taken his experience of working together with companies in both the private and public sectors to heart in navigating potential solutions to problems throughout the district that affect all aspects of the political spectrum.
“Every single time I have the opportunity to hear from voters, to hear about their concerns, I am inspired,” Castelli said.
Castelli credits his work thus far to conversations and road-trips, on his own dime, to speak with potential constituents in the North Country, and most recently in Granville on March 20 with a visit to Hicks Orchard.
“The event was fantastic and I didn’t really know what to expect,” Castelli said. “We have had opportunities where volunteers have stepped up to open up their homes, their businesses to allow Democrats to come in and sign petitions to make sure we’re on the ballot and that’s what this was billed as.”
The crowd of 30-40 people transitioned into a “mini town hall” session, Castelli said.
Hicks Orchard business development manager David Garvoille said he enjoys allowing politicians like Castelli and state Sen. Dan Stec (R) the chance to communicate and listen to the concerns of environmental policy, broadband and cellular accessibility, as well as the passions of the public.
“We welcome and support the democratic process, we want to have robust conversations and welcome folks from all political parties in engaging with community members with public concerns,” Garvoille said. “It felt really good to have someone come in the room and take that really seriously.”
Castelli, a former CIA director for counterterrorism serving during periods of President Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s tenures as Commander-in-Chief, has been abundantly clear about his inspiration for service within the CIA for nearly 15 years and his drive to run for U.S. Congress.
The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the U.S. Capitol building invasion on Jan. 6, 2021 flipped the switch for Castelli to put country before party and defend the nation from any terrorist or adversarial threat, whether foreign or domestic.
Castelli said he was disappointed with the demeanor and actions taken by Stefanik following the U.S. Capitol building riots.
“What we really need in terms of representation here in NY-21 is someone who’s going to put their country and community first, certainly ahead of their party’s interests and certainly ahead of their personal interests,” he said.
Castelli has three challengers vying for the party’s primary nomination to battle against Stefanik. Those nominees are Matthew Putorti, Ezra Watson and Keith Sherrill.
“I applaud, and I always have from the start of this campaign, anyone that wants to step up and serve their country and community. What really separates me is that I’m the only person in this race that has spent their career serving their country and community.
“I think it’s that record of service to our country that stands in stark contrast to Elise Stefanik’s record of service to herself,” Castelli said. “That’s what I think is going to win this race, is to be able to highlight to folks this focus that Congresswoman Stefanik has had of serving her own political ambitions and her party’s interests and not the needs of NY-21.”
Castelli highlighted the rise in cost of daily life, building infrastructure that will serve future generations, hurdles in accessibility to healthcare and prescription costs and the difficulty of physical proximity to acquiring necessary resources as key items he is aiming to tackle.
“We’re building something very special, we’re building a broad coalition that can win. And that is going to be a key differentiator in this race,” Castelli said.