By CRAIG FREILICH
The Watertown businessman who lost races for Congress in the last two elections is jumping into this year’s race in spite of the endorsement by many in his party of another hopeful.
Matt Doheny might have been perfectly happy to sit out this November’s election for Congress after two unsuccessful runs as Republican standard-bearer in 2010 and 2012.
In fact, after the last race, he told reporters that his political ambitions had been curbed.
He has married, has a son now, and is running his own investment business in Watertown.
But things moved fast after incumbent Democrat Bill Owens of Plattsburgh announced he wasn’t running again.
“He was formidable, very popular,” Doheny said this week.
“People who voted for me told me they thought well of him.
“We were all shocked at Owens’ announcement,” in mid-January, he said, but he did see a possible opening with the incumbent out of the way.
And so did others.
“There was a tremendous outpouring of calls encouraging me to run. After 500 we stopped counting.
“Then the Glens Falls and Watertown newspapers came out saying I should run, encouraging me to get in the race” in spite of the consensus of GOP leaders in the 21st Congressional District that Elise Stefanik of Willsboro in Essex County had earned their support as the candidate.
Deciding to run again
“It took a while for my wife Mary and I to decide to take on the challenge. We thought we had something to offer the voters. Finally my wife said we should do it. We want to do a good race and give it the effort it deserves.”
But this week two county Republican leaders from the eastern side of the district said they would be sticking to their endorsement of Elise Stefanik, a new face in North Country politics who came back to the region from Washington, D.C. after jobs in the George W. Bush administration and with Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan.
Essex County Republican 1st Vice-Chair Win Belanger, speaking on behalf of ailing County Chair and NYS Regional Chair Ron Jackson, reiterated the Stefanik endorsement. “This fact remains; she is still the best possible candidate regardless of the ‘Johnny come lately,’” he said.
And Saratoga County Republican Chairman John Herrick said in a statement, “The entry of Matt Doheny into the 21st Congressional race does not change the Saratoga County Republican Committee's support for Elise Stefanik. Elise entered the race expecting to run against a strong incumbent; she sought the nomination through the endorsement process that the 12 county chairs agreed to. She appeared before the Saratoga County committee, made a great presentation, answered our questions and won our endorsement. I believe Elise Stefanik will win the primary and win the general election.”
“The whole process was set up and the endorsement took place” before Owens’ announcement, Doheny said.
“The leaders had their process and stuck to it. We have come out two weeks before petitions and we’re comfortable with our timing. If there’s a primary, so be it. We had primaries in 2010, and 2012,” both of which he won, Doheny said.
A spot on the ballot
In fact this week Doheny secured a place on the ballot even if he fails to get the GOP nomination.
The Independence Party has endorsed him, guaranteeing him a spot on their line on the November ballot.
In addition to Doheny and Stefanik, the Republican field also includes retired U.S. Army major Joseph Gilbert, a tea party leader from St. Lawrence County, and political consultant Jamie Waller of Hamilton County, both of whom have said they intend to seek the Republican nomination.
The Democratic leadership in the 12-county 21st District have endorsed a political unknown, Aaron Woolf, a documentary filmmaker whose family has had a vacation home in the North Country since 1968. And former state senator and agriculture commissioner Darrel Aubertine, a Democrat from Cape Vincent, has not yet ruled out a run for his party’s nomination.
“In America, we like to have choices. That’s why Time-Warner cable has 500 channels,” Doheny said.
Alexandria Bay to Cornell to Wall Street
Matt Doheny graduated from Alexandria Central School in 1988. He majored in government studies at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, graduating in 1992. While there he was part of their Division III national championship football team, playing in the defensive backfield.
He got a law degree from Cornell University in 1995 and began his business career in corporate law.
He shifted from the legal aspects of business to finance, spending 10 years at the Deutsche Bank offices on Wall Street, specializing in corporate transactions and restructuring -- things like partnerships and joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, and divestiture of non-performing assets, all with the goal of increasing a company’s value – “helping companies in trouble turn around,” Doheny said.
Returning to the North Country, he began what he calls “the third chapter” of his life.
“I’ve always been focused on public service as a goal,” with inspiration from his mother.
“Mom was on the school board, was a village trustee – just one of those people. She instilled an interest and a desire to be in public service. I wanted to do well in the business world, but I knew public service was something I’d be interested in.”
He first wanted to take a shot at the Republican nomination for Congress in the special election of 2009, which was called when the then-23rd District seat opened up after President Obama appointed Rep. John McHugh as Secretary of the Army. But Doheny lost out on the nomination to Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava.
He won the GOP nomination in 2010, but lost to the winner of the 2009 election, Plattsburgh Democrat Bill Owens. In 2011 he formed the investment fund North Country Capital LLC. His business background was the source of criticism from the Owens campaign in 2012, which said “He would put Wall Street over Main Street every time.”
He was appointed to the board of directors at Eastman Kodak last September, and is also on the board of YRC Worldwide, operator of Yellow Road Trucking. He owns shares in both companies.
He has stepped off to an energetic start in his latest campaign, with meetings with supporters, party officials and reporters.
Asked what kind of campaign he wants to run, he said, “Victorious.
“I’ll be focusing on what I see as the key issues: jobs and economic opportunity. There are big challenges in places like Massena, Ogdensburg and Watertown, with their high unemployment. With my business background, I know how to create opportunity. I think I can provide leadership for people who are working hard.”
And he commented on his recently broadened perspective.
“I would like to make it so that if my son wants to stay in the area, he can.”