Democratic congressional candidate Matt Castelli on Monday made his strongest statement yet in opposition to an assault weapons ban.
“We do not support an ill-defined assault weapons ban that fails to address keeping our cops, our kids and communities safe,” he said, speaking at a Zoom news conference to release his “Moderate Party” platform.
Castelli also called for changes to New York’s bail reform law and said he opposes “defunding the police,” as he attempts to attract voters dissatisfied with the current direction of the two major political parties.
The campaign also announced it has established a “Moderate Party of New York. More information can be found at moderatepartyny.com.
The platform calls for “safety and security,” building a “strong economy,” abortion rights, gay and transgender rights, requiring verification for voters, securing the United States borders, setting term limits for members of Congress, prohibiting members of Congress from trading in stocks while in office, and cracking down on unfair China trade practices.
The written platform, outlined in a news release, is primarily generalities with few specifics.
Castelli, who is challenging Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, in the 21st District, said the platform is designed to reach voters who feel a sense of being “politically homeless” among the vocal factions of the Democratic and Republican parties.
Castelli said that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and “the Squad” — a group of six progressive Democratic House members that includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, both of the Bronx; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Cori Bush of Missouri — are extreme Democrats, while Stefanik and the “Ultra MAGA” represent extremists on the Republican side.
“There are two sides to the extreme coin,” said Castelli, a former CIA counterterrorism official who lives in Glens Falls.
Castelli’s campaign organized the independent “Moderate Party” line, providing him a second ballot line in the November general election.
The ballot line is for the November election only. Castelli is the only candidate running on the line.
It is not an organized political party, and does not have any leadership outside the Castelli campaign.
On gun control, the platform states that Castelli will “protect and defend the Second Amendment. Support common-sense measures, like universal background checks, that keep our cops, our kids, and our communities safe while protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
Throughout the Democratic primary, which Castelli won with more than 80% of the vote, Castelli faced criticism from primary opponent Matthew F. Putorti because Castelli would not take a position on an assault weapons ban.
Stefanik supporters, such as Warren County Republican Chairman George Ferone, likewise, have accused Castelli of attempting to hide his support of an assault weapons ban.
Castelli, at the news conference on Monday, did not carte blanche denounce an assault weapons ban, but seemed to make the strongest statement against one so far.
On public safety, Castelli reiterated that he opposes “defunding the police,” a term that generally means redirecting spending for police departments to other areas such as social workers and community services.
“We are going to fully fund the police. … blue lives matter,” he said.
A number of police unions have endorsed Stefanik.
Castelli, during the news conference, called for changes to New York’s bail law, which many law enforcement officials have criticized as leading to increased crime.
“New York state bail reform has become a disaster,” he said, commenting that it is a state, not a federal, issue.
Castelli said he is calling for changes because police officers and district attorneys in the congressional district have raised concerns with him about the 2019 bail reform law that eliminated cash bail in most instances.
Asked about specific changes to the law that he would recommend, Castelli did not identify any.
Castelli said that he has not spoken with Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul or area state legislators about his concerns about bail reform.
Asked if he supports calls from Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee M. Zeldin and New York City Mayor Eric L. Adams, a Democrat, for the legislature to immediately convene a special session to discuss bail reform, Castelli said he would leave that up to the legislature.
The Stefanik campaign said that Castelli appears to have changed his position on bail reform, citing a comment Castelli made at the town hall forum in Otsego County in August, in which Castelli spoke generally of concerns about the law being oriented more to the New York City area, without specifically calling for changes to the law.
“We may not have as much of a threat that is faced in communities downstate that bail reform may be an effective solution and I am not sure, I would have to experience downstate to speak on that, but I sure as heck wish we had stronger voices representing the upstate communities when any of these laws are being considered that impacts us at a state level,” Castelli said at the time.
The Castelli campaign, contacted to respond, said Castelli has consistently been opposed to the bail reforms.
“That (remark) is clearly taken out of context,” the Castelli campaign said in a statement.
Castelli said at the news conference that he was a registered independent for much of his adult life.
He said he voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008 and Democrat Barack Obama in 2012.
The Stefanik campaign said that Castelli is not a moderate.
“This downstate Democrat is desperately trying to trick voters into pretending to be a moderate. … Voters are smart. It’s why every law enforcement union has endorsed Congresswoman Stefanik and why exactly zero law enforcement unions have endorsed her opponent,” said Alex deGrasse, a Stefanik senior adviser.