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Political buzz fills Watertown as Ryan, Stefanik, Woolf appear

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WATERTOWN — U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, former vice presidential nominee and one of the most influential politicians in the country, had a curious effect on the race for the 21st Congressional District seat Monday.

His visit raised the profile of one of his former staffers, Republican Elise M. Stefanik, and provided a convenient contrast point for Democrat Aaron G. Woolf, who also was in town. But Rep. Ryan himself was scarcely to be seen.

The excitement of his visit brought at least 100 people to Savory Downtown restaurant in the Best Western hotel, 300 Washington St., where they paid at least $50 each to see the chairman of the House Budget Committee speak. The media were not granted access.

The fundraiser for Ms. Stefanik also brought out a dozen protesters affiliated with local unions, who appeared with signs decrying his controversial budget proposal along with other policy ideas.

“Close loopholes for Wall St. and the rich,” and “No tax breaks for outsourcing,” read the signs carried by Ron D. Monnat, Watertown, and Dale R. Stehlin, respectively.

A labor organizer from Syracuse led the assembled protesters in a chant.

“Paul Ryan, rich and rude, we don’t like your attitude,” they said.

For her part, Ms. Stefanik said she was proud to have the endorsement of her former boss, for whom she worked as director of debate preparation during his 2012 vice presidential campaign. But Rep. Ryan did not appear with her outside the banquet hall where supporters gathered, nor did he grant interviews to reporters who showed up to cover his appearance, some from as far away as Plattsburgh.

Appearing after the event with Watertown Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham, Ms. Stefanik said that Rep. Ryan had toured Knowlton Technologies with her earlier in the day but that his schedule did not allow him to take questions.

“We just had a great event,” Ms. Stefanik said said. “We’re excited about all the support heading into the final three weeks” of the primary.

Across town, at the IBEW Local 910 union, Mr. Woolf was aware of the high-wattage appearance.

After being introduced by John T. O’Driscoll, the union’s business manager, Mr. Woolf referred to Rep. Ryan’s visit almost immediately.

“It’s an honor and it’s such a treat to be here,” Mr. Woolf said. “It’s particularly gratifying on a day when there are so many political celebrities in town.”

Mr. Woolf used Rep. Ryan’s appearance to his advantage. Without mentioning his opponent by name, he said he found it curious that Ms. Stefanik — while attempting to shed the Washington, D.C., insider label hurled at her by Republican Matthew A. Doheny’s campaign — would invite such a prominent personality from Washington to campaign with her.

“People have said some bonkers things about me,” Mr. Woolf said. “But one thing they haven’t said is he is a Washington insider.”

Mr. Woolf then used his mention of Rep. Ryan to segue into a story about how his career as a documentary filmmaker — he won a Peabody award for his film “King Corn” — had lent him insight into what happens when people from the nation’s capital make decisions that affect people who live in other parts of the country.

After the meeting, Mr. Woolf said that he did not have a specific alternative to the Ryan budget in mind. He characterized Rep. Ryan’s budget as a proposal with one goal, a “comprehensive attempt to balance the budget.” Instead of the single goal of balancing the budget, Mr. Woolf said he would want to put forward an alternative proposals with “many goals” in mind.

“That’s something I want very much to work on with the priorities of north country families,” Mr. Woolf said.

Several of the protesters who gathered outside of the Best Western during Rep. Ryan’s appearance, including Mr. Monnat and Mr. Stehlin, also attended Mr. Woolf’s event.

Mr. O’Driscoll said that the union has supported the candidacies of John McHugh, a longtime Republican congressman from the district who was appointed Secretary of the Army in 2009; former state Sen. James Wright, also a Republican; and former Republican Assemblywoman Dierdre K. Scozzafava, who ran to replace Mr. McHugh during a 2009 special election.

“We’re not a one-party union here. We look for the best person to represent us. But so far I like everything Aaron has said,” Mr. O’Driscoll said.

As for Rep. Ryan, he was glimpsed for just a moment as he got into a vehicle to leave Ms. Stefanik’s fundraiser.

Ms. Stefanik will face Mr. Doheny, a Watertown resident who was campaigning in Lake Placid on Monday, in a June 24 primary election. Ms. Stefanik has secured the Conservative line and Mr. Doheny has secured the Independence line. No matter who wins the Republican nomination, each candidate will appear on his or her minor party line on the ballot in November.

They will face both Mr. Woolf and Green Party candidate Matthew J. Funiciello in the general election.

Elise Stefanik speaks to media after fundrasier with Paul Ryan

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