Congressional challenger Matt Doheny picked up some major backing Wednesday while fending off attacks from incumbent Bill Owens about his Wall Street past.
Doheny was endorsed by Upstate New York Tea Party Chairman Mark L. Barie, who had been staunchly behind Douglas Hoffman.
"The United States is on a collision course with bankruptcy, and Bill Owens won't take his foot off the gas pedal," Barie said at a news conference.
Doheny defeated Hoffman in the Sept. 14 Republican primary for the 23rd District. Hoffman has since said he will stay in the race as a Conservative Party candidate, but Barie and — if what he says is accurate — the bulk of UNYTEA are switching horses.
"I asked Doug to drop out of the race, and he said no, but I don't think it really matters anymore," Barie said.
"He has no campaign, no organization, no money, and he has shut down just about everything, and I don't think the UNYTEA members are going to vote for him."
Barie said that a poll of the nearly 1,000 UNYTEA members is still under way to see if the group wants to formally endorse Doheny.
But the 235 responses received so far, Barie said, are overwhelmingly in favor of Doheny, as are 10 of the 12 Steering Committee members.
Doheny said the backing of UNYTEA sets the tone for his campaign.
"Now we need to all collectively agree that we need to send Bill Owens back to private practice," Doheny said.
"We need to make a fundamental change in the 23rd District, and we need to make sure the country goes in a new direction."
HOFFMAN FEELS SUPPORT
Hoffman was not deterred by Barie's endorsement of Doheny, saying he has heard from a number of UNYTEA members who still back him.
"A lot of them still support me, as they did last year, and they are out there working for me right now," Hoffman said.
"They said I was dead last year, and I certainly had no problems getting to where we got."
Hoffman lost to Owens in a close race last year in a special election when he ran as the Conservative Party candidate.
He said he is not concerned by criticisms that his staying in the race will split the vote between himself and Doheny, giving Owens another win.
"I think it will be split in all directions and split on Bill Owens's part, too, because he violated all the promises he made on his first day in office," Hoffman said.
"If you want honesty and integrity, then I'm your candidate."
Owens, a Democrat and a Plattsburgh attorney, took aim at his Republican opponent this week when he released a television advertisement that attacked Doheny's actions when he worked as a Wall Street investor.
The ad accused Doheny of supporting tax breaks for companies that send American jobs overseas.
A news release from Owens said that Doheny, while working for Deutsche Bank, led the restructuring efforts of Adelphia Communications, once one of the largest cable companies in the country.
Shortly after filing for bankruptcy protection, the release said, Adelphia's board approved a proposal to pay $35 million in bonuses and nearly $6 million in severance packages for more than 200 executives while workers were being fired.
"Based on these facts, it's no wonder Doheny signed the Americans for Tax Reform Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which condones tax breaks for companies that ship American jobs overseas," the release said.
"This is not the type of jobs plan we need in Upstate New York."
Doheny said Owens's advertisement was completely false, but he did not specifically address the bonuses or the layoffs.
"I am going to go to Washington to lead the way for economic opportunity and job creation," Doheny said.
"That's why I am in favor of extending the Bush-era tax cuts because that will provide certainty, and businesses need certainty if they want to hire people."
His website did say the ad misrepresents the purpose of the pledge that Doheny has signed.
"It's bad enough that Rep. Owens won't promise to protect taxpayers," Doheny spokeswoman Allison Power said.
"But it adds insult to those taxpayers' injury when he approves an ad that misrepresents such a promise."
Barie, who worked with Owens in courting Canadian companies to the North Country for 25 years, said Owens would often advise Canadian companies on how to use loopholes to avoid double taxation.
"Bill Owens should be ashamed of himself for saying this," Barie said. "He's made a living out of advising Canadian companies about tax loopholes."
Owens said his discussions with Canadian companies had to do with where they were going to be taxed, not how to eliminate jobs.
"Matt Doheny supports companies that want to ship jobs overseas, and we are trying to close loopholes that allow that," Owens said.
Owens said Wednesday that he is in favor of a compromise regarding the Bush-era tax cuts.
"Even before I was sent to Congress, I advocated for extending tax cuts for the middle-class, hard-working families of Upstate New York," he said.
The compromise, signed by Owens and Congressmen Bill Pascrell (D-New Jersey), Michael Capuano (D-Massachusetts) and Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo), calls for:
▶ A five-year extension of the current middle-class tax rates for individuals making under $200,000 and families making under $250,000 annually.
▶ A five-year extension of the current tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends.
▶ A one-year extension of the higher tax rates only for individuals and joint filers making under $500,000 annually.
"I believe this proposal strikes a fair compromise to keeping taxes low for middle-class families and small businesses in our community while not increasing the national debt by hundreds of billions of dollars with tax cuts for millionaires our nation simply cannot afford," Owens said.
He said a compromise was the only way to deal with partisan differences over the issue and that it would benefit the 23rd District.
"We are prepared to have a serious discussion."
Standing beside a cardboard cutout of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a wedding dress and Owens in a tuxedo, arm in arm, Barie and Doheny both stressed Wednesday that Owens and Pelosi are bad for the country because they continue to increase spending and deficits.
"The North Country voted for Bill Owens last year, but we got Nancy Pelosi," Barie said.
"Bill Owens votes with Nancy Pelosi 93 percent of the time. I don't even vote with my own wife 93 percent of the time, so I don't think it is unfair to say they are married."
Owens said he has voted "innumerable" times against his party and always puts the needs of the district first.
"I am glad to see they have finally gotten a sense of humor, but that's just political talk," he said.
E-mail Joe LoTemplio at: firstname.lastname@example.org