WILTON — Matt Castelli, the latest Democrat to announce he’s running for Congress in New York’s 21st Congressional District, wants people to know he’ll put the good of the country before his party.
In an interview Thursday, Mr. Castelli, a former CIA officer and the former director of counter-terrorism for the National Security Council, said his service over the past 15 years proves he cares first and foremost for the safety and security of the U.S.
“I led teams hunting down the world’s most dangerous terrorists, I was in the same department that took down Osama bin Laden,” he said. “I’ve spent time in places like Afghanistan and Iraq on the front lines of intelligence collection and counterterrorism operations. I then served at the White House for both President Obama and the Trump White House.”
He said that experience, working on a bipartisan basis to achieve the country’s goals, has prepared him for the work of a congressman.
Mr. Castelli said he decided to run for Congress after seeing the events of Jan. 6, when a mob of people supporting former President Donald J. Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
He compared that event to the attacks on 9/11, which spurred him to work in the intelligence service, calling it a domestic terrorist attack against the Capitol, “the heart of our democracy.”
“I’m struck by the fact that, as we’re approaching the anniversary of 9/11, what happened on Jan. 6 is something even the 9/11 hijackers weren’t able to accomplish, a successful attack on the Capitol,” he said.
Mr. Castelli drew those same parallels in his campaign announcement video Wednesday, which prompted a swift response from the campaign for incumbent Congresswoman Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville. Alex DeGrasse, the congresswoman’s senior adviser, said it was “fundamentally not serious and deeply out of touch with north country voters,” to equate Jan. 6 with the 9/11 attacks.
Mr. Castelli said he believes such statements do a disservice to the memory of the people who died crash-landing United Airlines Flight 93, which was intended to hit the U.S. Capitol, into a field in Somerset County, Pa., and all other Americans who died in the attacks that day.
“It does a disservice to the service and sacrifice that has been made by thousands of folks that I’ve served with in the aftermath of 9/11 to protect our democracy,” he said. “I think it’s an abomination for someone like Stefanik to downplay the events of Jan. 6 and to say they weren’t a domestic terrorist attack.”
Mr. Castelli said he’s heard from many people around the district since he announced his candidacy, and has heard time and time again that people think partisan politics has gone too far.
“We need someone who will put country before party, get at what the interests of the people in this district are first,” he said.
Mr. Castelli said he’s a Democrat with Democratic values, and believes government should help those who need it most, but said he wants to steer away from extreme partisanship and the labels that come with it.
Mr. Castelli is a relatively new resident of the state’s 21st Congressional District. He was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, south of Albany, and most recently lived in Washington D.C. He moved to Saratoga County, at the southern end of the district, in August.
The Stefanik campaign seized on this, and Mr. DeGrasse released a statement late Wednesday pointing out that Mr. Castelli is the third Democratic candidate this cycle to have only recently moved to the region.
Mr. Castelli said he moved to the region not to run for office, but to live.
“I spent a good amount of time here as a young man. I was born and bred in upstate New York,” he said.
Mr. Castelli graduated from Siena College, in Loudonville, Albany County, and lived in many different places once he graduated and joined the CIA.
“I think folks who have served our country in a similar capacity would understand,” he said. “New York 21 is my home; I moved here to live and be close to family and friends.”
On the issues, if he reaches Congress Mr. Castelli said he would focus on digging Northern New York out of the pandemic, bringing in jobs and doing something to address the population loss in the region. He said he wants to see veterans and rural residents get easier access to quality medical care, and overall better access to education.
“We need to ensure the safety and security of our communities and our nation, and that includes ensuring that our military has the resources that they need to accomplish the mission and support families here at home,” he said.
Mr. Castelli is entering a Democratic field that is crowded by north country standards — Ezra Watson, Matthew F. Purorti and Brigid “Bridie” Farrell all announced their campaigns over the summer, and their ideologies range from ecologically focused progressive to centrist, even conservative, Democrat.
He said he’s happy to see so many people step up to serve, but he believes his past and his message give him a leg up over the competition for the Democratic nomination.
“I talked a lot about country before party, that’s not just the campaign slogan, it’s something that I’ve lived,” he said. “I think that’ll be the thing that makes the difference.”
Mr. Castelli and the other Democratic candidates will face a primary election in 2022, although the exact date has not been set yet. Whichever candidate wins that primary will face off against Rep. Stefanik in the Nov. 8, 2022, general election.