SARANAC LAKE – Emily Martz believes in the social safety net because it’s caught her more than once.
If elected to Congress, she wants to protect benefits like Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment insurance so other Americans will have access to the same programs that made a difference in her life.
The first time she went on unemployment was nearly two decades ago when she was a junior employee at a financial firm and got laid off. Then as a professor at Paul Smith’s College her position was cut because of a financial emergency at the college.
“I’m doing this to give back,” Martz said. “I want other people to have the same opportunities as me.”
The 46-year-old Saranac Lake resident is one of five Democrats vying to take on U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Essex County, for the 21st Congressional District, a vast geographic area that stretches from the Adirondacks to northern Saratoga County.
This is another in a series of profiles of some of the candidates running in the primaries for Congress as the June 26 election nears.
Martz has lived in the district for less than a decade, but she isn’t worried about voters holding it against her. She argues that her time in different parts of the country strengthens her background and expands her perspective.
“What matters is someone’s dedication to the district and what the person has done for the district,” Martz said.
In the district she helped support local businesses through her work with the Adirondack North Country Association, an economic development non-profit organization.
In particular, she highlights the expansion of a solar power company that was able to grow with the help of some seed money. “We worked to effectively bridge that gap and Apex solar has grown from approximately 30 employees to 130 employees,” Martz said.
“That’s the kind of real experience, here in the district, that separates me,” she added.
Chester Supervisor Craig Leggett said Martz’s understanding of the region’s economy is one of the reasons he supports her candidacy. “She knows what we face and what our opportunities are,” he said.
It was her assessment of the region that led her to decide Congress was the right place for her to begin her political career.
“The village I live in, the town I live in, the state I live in, are headed in a positive direction – what’s not, is Congress,” Martz said.
The lack of a governmental resume didn’t deter Leggett from supporting her, as he expects Martz will be a quick study. “She has the qualities to be able to jump in, learn her way around and do a good job for us,” he said.
In the private sector, Martz said she created jobs and helped businesses by making partnerships and expects that background will help her get things done at the federal level.
Without the most money or supporters in the race, Leggett said Martz will have to outwork her competitors to win the primary. He said the strength of her campaign is when she connects with voters in face-to-face meetings.
Martz added that she calls as many people as she can and distributed postcards with her phone number on them. She said a few people called her back and were appreciative of how accessible she was.
“I committed to the retail politics, which I know is tough in this district because it’s so big,” she said.
Martz doesn’t shy away from the fact that Republicans are supporting her during the primary, a fact she thinks bodes well for November, and says she differs from some of her Democratic opponents because she can work across party lines.
She said her approach to governing will reflect her pragmatic thinking, which isn’t tied to any ideological dogma. “Some of the other candidates have a pie in the sky approach,” Martz said, while declining to label anyone specifically.
This moderate style is one of the attributes about Martz that is touted by Leggett, an unaffiliated voter who ran for office in 2015 with the support of the Democratic and Conservative parties.
“She’s not your typical Democratic candidate,” he said, noting that her position on the Second Amendment was grounded in the idea of individual rights.
Leggett first met Martz three years ago when they served on a panel together and he was immediately struck by her sincerity and intelligence. “I thought, here is a bright person who has her finger on the pulse of things,” he recalled.
The primary is on June 26.
David.Lombardo@timesunion.com – 518.454.5427 – @Poozer87