The candidate most likely to win the Democratic primary race in the NY21st Congressional district has finally stepped forward. With her recently published essays, widespread press coverage and appearance on MSNBC, and with her tireless retail politicking around the vast district, Katie Wilson, of Keene, has become the native daughter most likely to purloin votes away from carpetbagger, willing Paul Ryan stooge and Trumpian apologist Elise Stefanik in the most important midterm election of my lifetime.
I have watched the race closely from exile in Vermont ever since November 8, 2016, knowing Vermont was secure and that if I wanted to move the needle and swing Congress next November I had to focus on my own personal heartland — where I still have a cabin and am writing at this moment — the Adirondacks and northern New York. I zeroed in on Katie immediately, having watched the Democrats throw out some doozies in recent years, and for the further reasons I will enumerate below.
Since then, nothing in this roller-coaster, Class V, black diamond double-expert, 6.5 pitch primary battle has happened to change my mind. In fact, I am more certain than ever that for this historic midterm Katie Wilson, from the core of the High Peaks, is the only one of the five remaining candidates who can beat Stefanik and restore the district’s deep purple heart.
I’m not the only one: my friend and colleague Bill McKibben wrote in Huffington Post that “Katie’s not just going to be a great Congresswoman, she’s going to make waves beyond that.” Another prominent Democratic funder active in Adirondack issues and non-profits said that when he met her no new candidate approaching him had made such an impression since Kirsten Gillibrand. When Salon heard the buzz, it had this to say.
Writers like McKibben like Katie because she doesn’t equivocate, she doesn’t prevaricate. She looks straight into the camera and speaks from personal experience of the suffering of working families, single parents, family farms, aging veterans, all brought on by conservative policies. Her passion is informed. She reads, she listens, she guides and educates, she questions assumed wisdom whenever it arises.
As much as I applaud most of those in the primary race (not you, Dylan Ratigan), who seem honest, hard-working, their hearts and minds in the right places, only Wilson has the fire in the belly, the sass, the energy and the ability to take on the Koch-Ryan bloc and truly represent, in every sense of the word, the sprawling district she hails from, lives in, knows and loves.
Because now it’s only about winning. As the journalist David Roberts tweeted of Republican tactics last week, “the power game is the only real game right now,” making the strenuous arguments of “earnest policy analysts, think tankers and pundits… utterly epiphenomenal. The people who matter now are the fighters, the doers.”
That’s not a cop-out or a concession to brutishness, it’s a pragmatic real world strategy for defeating Trumpism while an electoral structure still remains to do it. It means, among other things, not going so high when they go low that nobody can hear you, not saying that both parties are equally bad and that when progressives are out of power it’s easier to raise money, not voting for the nicer person or the one who necessarily most closely aligns with your own age bracket, skin color, laundry list of policy goals and nuances of gender identification. It means voting for the candidate most likely to defeat the Harvard educated, poker-faced, low-visibility Republican incumbent with the insider connections and limitless Koch-backed funding.
A Keene native who grew up skiing, riding horses and learning her way around sporting arms, Katie Wilson attended UVM, moved out west, then came home to help her aging father save the family’s inn. She couldn’t. The inn sold and now she owns a small business, dealing on a daily basis with the demands of being a single mother keeping up a middle-class existence amid the pressures of a rigged economy in a rural district, one with its own crises of health care, the environment, infrastructure and elder care.
Wilson was one of the first to announce on the wave of female candidates. She has made up for her lack of money by writing and by crisscrossing the sprawling21 st (one of the nation’s largest geographic districts), talking to voters. She has held Stefanik’s feet to the fire on issues including taxes, the environment, the open carry bill and others. She has eclipsed the other Democratic candidates in her visibility, her grasp, her depth and her passion. (Stefanik, usually a willing Ryan flunky, got released to vote no on the tax bill. She also claims to believe global warming is a threat and that the president is not above the law.)
Wilson writes like a dream and has published her essays here, and here, and been on MSNBC here. If the integrity of the Adirondack Park and its purpose is your issue, she did more to focus political and government attention on oil tankers being stored on the old Tahawus railroad line in Newcomb than any other candidate or local representative. If your issue is forging a new Democratic Party and progressive future, she has the support of the Working Families Party, an active and personal social media presence, and has spoken out against the dispiriting whiteboard-and-Power Point electoral advice of the hidebound DCCC, on which she will have to depend if she wins the nomination. If it’s jobs and help for small businesses she’s got you covered; if it’s climate she bought her house in Keene after the town got washed away in Hurricane Irene then rebuilt with state and federal aid. (She also grew up in the cross-country ski industry, so, you know, snow.)
If you want to begin the long process of restoring constitutional standards to congress and government, if you want NY21 to figure nationally in that process — and make no mistake, there is a story with national implications here — only one candidate has any chance of beating the incumbent. Katie Wilson can out-ski, out-shoot, out-ride, out-stare and grin down anything and anybody the Koch-Ryan cabal can throw at her. She swats away cheap shots and Republican double-speak with fierce intelligence, withering understatement and quotable wit.
“Some people tell me I don’t smile enough, that I’m too intense,” she complained at a recent candidate forum. True, she is no glad-handing elbow squeezer, she hasn’t been an HR director for a major non-profit, a banker, a child psychologist or yet another lawyer. She’s a punk chick from the intellectual capital of the High Peaks, where Pragmatism was invented, who if you crowd her will fuck you up. That’s the intensity that will vanquish the personality-challenged incumbent on camera, that will win over the purple district with her combination of knowing voters and their problems, talking their talk and suffering the same economic woes, while also being a general overall badass on their behalf. (The Bernie Principle.) You can’t imagine Cobb or Martz standing up to the team-coached and coiffed Stefanik, whose bland demeanor projects the flickering platitudes of mainstream rural Republicanism, but who hits her mark and knows her sound bites.
Simply, none of the other candidates has such a wide appeal and such persistent, hard-edged capacity to face down the Trumpist onslaught. The Democratic party structure and pollsters think we’re all in the tank for Trump and Stefanik. We’ll match Idaho and Nevada in percentage of survivalist right-wingers faking it out in the woods. But we voted twice for Obama, once for Hillary (and for Bernie in the primary), we have organic dairy, beef and vegetable farms, moderating demographics across the board, villages like Saranac Lake, North Creek and Potsdam making a stab at economic and cultural resurgence, a sound and increasingly visible Native community at Akwesasne and out in the region, and the largest, most interesting, varied and important protected wildland in the lower 48. Who else do you want, really, speaking up for that district — which is showing more cohesion and regional identity in this race than I have ever seen — in the tangle of the next Congress?
That other reason I was talking about for why I think you should vote for Katie Wilson is a personal one — Katie’s father Joe Pete Wilson gave me work and a place to stay when I was starting to shift from being a seasonally employed guide and ski lift bum to writing, editing and teaching. I cooked and guided out of the Bark Eater Inn the winter Katie Wilson was born.
Background like that goes a long way. So when I realized she was running I called my son, Noah, a real Democrat and first rate political animal, to check her out. (We hadn’t seen her in twenty years.) He, too, grew up close to the bone in Stony Creek and went on from there to campaign for Obama and work for DOE in Washington. He’s no pushover. He came back from the meeting with the good news: “She’s the real thing.” This is a guy who guided rafts on the Hudson then a few years later gave a fundraising speech in Boston’s Copley Square the same day Barack Obama announced his candidacy. You can take his word to the bank.
For fifty years I have harbored a fantasy of a northern New York and Adirondacks that identified as something more than a neglected hinterland of the big Macintosh at the mouth of the Hudson, where the people who lived there were the ones who defended and understood and valued rather than exploited the place’s special qualities the most, a population that could sustain itself and give young people a reason to come, to stay and to care, and that could produce its own distinctive writers, filmmakers, artists — clean energy entrepreneurs, too. In the candidacy of Katie Wilson I see that beginning to happen. Please give her your money and your vote.
This essay does not represent the opinions of the Adirondack Almanack.
Photo by Heather Gallagher.