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Democrat Paula Collins discusses her congressional campaign to unseat incumbent Republican Elise Stefanik

Paula Collins
Paula Collins for Congress NY-21
Paula Collins

The New York state Board of Elections has determined that only one Democrat has qualified to run in this year’s race for the 21st Congressional district seat. Cannabis tax attorney Paula Collins is the only Democrat who filed the required petitions to be placed on the ballot. She will challenge incumbent Elise Stefanik, a top House Republican in the general election.

Collins has a law office in Manhattan and is renting an apartment in Canton, a village in northern New York. In a conversation with WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley, the candidate explains her ties to the 21st district:

I am a cannabis tax attorney and that requires that I travel around the state. In fact, that was sort of how I began to learn more about the people and the issues that are in New York 21. It's also how I came to think, gee, I'd really like to buy some land and to start to settle in New York 21. Interestingly enough, the property I have entered into a purchase agreement on is in Rensselaer County, which you may know has now been drawn out of New York 21. But in the meantime, because that's just blank land and it's something that needs to be developed, which I will be doing in the upcoming months or years. I knew that I wanted a place to call home base, as well as an office, and so it looked like Canton was a good place to do that. Because it, the approximate, you know, the distance that one has to travel if you're regularly moving about in New York 21. That distance, it's you know, it's over 15,000 square miles. And Canton is a great place. You know, it's got a couple of universities and colleges there. Nice vibe to it. Couple of clients in the area. And so it made a whole lot of sense for me to be there.


Paula Collins, in past campaigns that have come up against Elise Stefanik, the Republican incumbent, she's been somewhat successful with this carpetbagging charges against her opponents. If there's even the slightest bit of history of somebody having not been in the district or leaving the district for a while she will go after them. Do you feel you might be vulnerable to those sorts of challenges from your Republican opponent?


I would throw that carpetbagger term right back at her. She entered Congress really using her parents summer camp address. In terms of being a carpet bagger she has no basis on which to make that claim because she herself does not live in the district. Also the law is on my side. Any registered Democrat in the state of New York can run in any congressional district. So as certainly as she hurls that term my way, I will hurl it right back because she has certainly had time and opportunity to locate her residence within the district and she has obviously chosen not to.


What are some of your key issues?


Immigration is top of mind for those counties that are near the Canadian border. And what we recently saw was that we had a bipartisan bill in Congress that seemed to have every indication of getting the proper number of votes until the past president, Donald Trump, indicated to his followers including Elise Stefanik than it should be voted down. So I would like to see Congress come together and actually approve some type of lasting reform of immigration. The second issue as I travel around the district is broadband access. We have at our disposal the Rural Electrification Act which was passed long ago in the 1930s, so in the early part of the last century. We could use portions of the Rural Electrification Act to pass a permanent funding and a permanent means of providing access throughout the district. I think all of us have had the experience of driving around in New York 21 and oops there goes the cell phone service. Or trying to log on and oops there is no wifi anywhere within range. That impacts people's employment choices because people in New York 21 cannot reliably work from home like people in all other parts of the state and in much of the country can. And we did see that there is a need for educational services to be delivered at home as what happened during COVID or really during a regular Tuesday afternoon when kids need to sit down at the kitchen table and do homework. We also need to look at the vulnerabilities to our healthcare system if we don't have reliable internet.


Paula Collins, to get your message out about those key issues you're going to need some money. How can you compete compared to Stefanik’s fundraising?


I don't plan to. And I am actively fundraising and I have a team actively engaged and working on that as we speak. But here's the thing. In March of 2024 the incumbent Democrat President Joseph Biden outraised the opponent, Donald Trump. Yet despite that disparity in fundraising, they were still neck and neck in the polls. So I do not believe that we are running elections or that the voters are voting in the same way that is money driven. I believe that this is an election in which it's going to come down to who shows up on election day. The Republicans that I've spoken with are a little bit fatigued with the current status of the party. They're very concerned about our democracy. They're very concerned about having somebody who is multiply indicted and who is actively having to defend himself in court while still trying to entertain a return to the White House.


Paula, New York 21 historically has been a very Republican district. In the last, I believe it's like 150 years, we've only had one Democrat hold the seat. What makes you different from the other Democrats that have run and ended up losing?


You know, it's hard to call New York 21 a monolith. It's a vast, vast district. There are counties within New York 21 that voted twice for Barack Obama. So this idea that it is a solidly Republican district is actually new. And as I've indicated, I think there are Republicans and there are Independents who are quite tired of what's going on. They're tired of the rhetoric. They are very, very concerned about this embrace of Putin or the embrace of fascism. And they're very, very concerned about things like January 6th or about Elise Stefanik’s defense of the insurrectionists.


Paula, you mentioned Joe Biden earlier. Do you support his reelection bid?


I do support Joe Biden's reelection bid


Democrat Paula Collins will also appear on the Working Families Party line in the 21st Congressional district race.


A statement from Alex DeGrasse, Senior Advisor to Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, notes that the incumbent has “demolished every general election Democrat opponent at the ballot box.” Noting strong support from across the district throughout her decade in office, the statement says Stefanik “will crush this New York City Far Left Democrat who has never even lived here, is newly registered to vote at a bed and breakfast, and even listed her New York City address on her petitions if she even makes the ballot for a possible lack of petitions."