N.Y. Dem challenging Stefanik for House seat keeping state's liberal governor at arm's length

Matt Castelli, who's trying to portray himself as a moderate in his upsate race, has been silent on endorsement from Gov. Kathy Hochul, an ardent proponent of gun control.

Updated: September 5, 2022 - 11:28pm

Matt Castelli, the Democrat challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik in New York's 21st Congressional District, appears to be ignoring an endorsement from the Empire State's own Democrat governor, raising questions about why a congressional candidate wouldn't tout the backing of his state's top elected official when she's a member of the same party.

Late last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul endorsed Castelli, a former CIA officer and National Security Council official in both the Obama and Trump administrations, after he won the Democratic primary.

Since then, Castelli has yet to publicly acknowledge Hochul. He took the endorsement as a chance to highlight his campaign slogan of "country before party" and to criticize Stefanik, the third-ranking House Republican — without mentioning the governor's name at all.

"Momentum is behind our campaign and I am grateful for the strong support we have from democracy-loving Republicans, Independents, and Democrats to defeat Stefanik's extremism and restore true public service to NY-21 in November," Castelli said in a statement. "No matter the endorsement, voters know that I will always put country and community before party, something I've done throughout my entire career and that Stefanik has always failed to do."

Hochul's name is noticeably absent from the page on his campaign website listing the endorsements he's received.

Just the News reached out to Castelli's campaign asking if he accepts Hochul's endorsement and why he's been quiet about it. The campaign didn't respond.

However, Stefanik's campaign told Just the News that Castelli "is desperately hiding this politically toxic endorsement" from voters in the 21st CD, which is located in upstate New York and has voted Republican in recent elections.

"Does Far-Left Downstate Democrat Matt Castelli think he can hide his public support of Kathy Hochul as well as Hochul's endorsement, given that he has already supported her unconstitutional gun control legislation that is out of step with law-abiding North Country and Upstate New York gun owners?" asked Alex DeGrasse, senior adviser to Stefanik. "The local media and voters should ask Far-Left Downstate Matt Castelli if he formally accepts Hochul's endorsement and every radical policy from Albany that hurts the North Country and Upstate New York."

Stefanik's team has coined the prefix nickname "Far-Left Downstate Democrat" for Castelli, who they argue is a carpetbagger — a transplant from outside the area. He moved upstate last year for the first time after being raised in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and spending his adult life in Washington, D.C. working for the federal government.

Castelli's campaign didn't respond to a request to comment on these criticisms.

Hochul has been an outspoken proponent of stricter gun control, signing into law earlier this year a range of new measures, such as raising the age to buy semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21 and banning guns from a long list of so-called "sensitive locations," including parks, restaurants, and elsewhere.

"This whole concept that a good guy with a gun will stop the bad guys with a gun, it doesn't hold up," Hochul said Wednesday. "We don't need guns on our streets."

Castelli, who's tried to portray himself as a "moderate" throughout the campaign, told a local news stationIn June that he supported Hochul's gun restrictions. "Right now, there's urgency in order to make sure we're in a position to keep our kids and our community safe," he said.

Hochul has also pursued soft-on-crime bail reform policies that have come under fire and recently suggested conservatives in New York should leave the state.

Stefanik is expected to comfortably defeat Castelli in November after winning reelection in 2020 by about 18 percentage points.

Castelli has been facing recent controversy following publication of an eyebrow-raising story in the Daily Mail, which reported allegations by former colleagues that he drank on the job and slept with colleagues in government buildings while working for the White House as a counterterrorism official at the National Security Council.

Castelli dismissed the allegations as part of a "political hit job from allies of Elise Stefanik because she is afraid to run against a patriot like Matt Castelli."