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Off to the Congressional races

Liuba Grechen Shirley

Liuba Grechen Shirley

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Daily Point

Can Liuba Grechen Shirley become a social media sensation?

The erstwhile congressional candidate is certainly trying.

As she ratchets up her campaign against Rep. Peter King, Liuba Grechen Shirley is getting personal — about herself. Earlier this week, she posted a video in which she tells the story of her 1-year-old son, Nicholas, who broke his femur last month and ended up in a body cast.

With Nicholas now out of the cast, Grechen Shirley’s attention has turned to her insurance company, which has refused to cover Nicholas’ hospital stay. She noted that she spent three hours on the phone trying to get payment, and is now appealing the denial of the claim.

“All I could think about when I was on the phone: What if I was a single mother and I was working a minimum-wage job, and I had a 15-minute break. How was somebody supposed to spend three hours on a work day on the phone with their insurance company?” Grechen Shirley said in the video, which has had more than 5,000 views since Monday. “Insurance should not be this difficult . . . We should be treated as patients, not profits.”

Grechen Shirley encouraged viewers to share their experiences, and share they did, taking to the candidate’s Facebook page to tell their own horror stories about insurance coverage.

She’s a made-for-social media candidate, and if she goes viral with videos like this one, she is sure to capture the attention of the national political media as the archetype of the new wave of women running against the establishment. Her challenge to King is not being taken seriously by Washington handicappers, but more media attention, and the money that flows with it, is sure to put her on their radar screen.

Randi F. Marshall

Talking Point

The race is on

The anticipated Democratic wave in the November midterm elections is reaching into New York’s north country. Ten Democrats had announced at one point that they would challenge two-term Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik in the 21st District. She’s one of nine Republicans among New York’s 27 House members, and Stefanik voted against the GOP tax bill, saying she felt full deductions for state and local taxes should have remained.

Former cable news host Dylan Ratigan entered the primary last week, prompting two other hopefuls to drop out. Democratic consultant Bruce Gyory expects the field to winnow further. The large number of Democrats reflects both the huge geography of the district, he said, and that Democrats are worked up.

“In a year like this where the Democratic base is activated, it tends to draw candidates into the mix,” Gyory told The Point in an email. “Candidates pop up from multiple counties and sub-regions within the district.”

The 21st District flipped for Donald Trump in the presidential election after voting twice for Barack Obama. So, Stefanik could face a tough race no matter which Democrat emerges.

Ratigan, 45, now a hydroponic farmer, grew up in Saranac Lake and may be able to tout his status as a hometown guy, Gyory said. Stefanik is vulnerable on this point. Even though her family has a long-standing business in the district, she grew up and went to school in the Albany suburbs.

Ratigan, who left TV in 2012, hired high-powered campaign help in the person of Joe Trippi, who helped U.S. Sen. Doug Jones pull off an upset victory in December in Alabama against the scandal-hobbled Republican Roy Moore.

Trippi told The Point that he’s spoken with Ratigan over the years and has always liked his “more aggressive ideas about what we need to do about economic realities and creating jobs.” Census data say the unemployment rate in the 21st district is 6 percent.

Trippi said he was surprised and thrilled that Ratigan jumped into the race. “I was on board right away,” he said. He expressed optimism about Ratigan’s chances to pull ahead of the pack because he is a skilled communicator. However, Trippi seemed less certain about ousting Stefanik in November. “There’s definitely going to be a Democratic wave, but it will also mean attracting a lot of Democrats and Republicans who believe the old ideas aren’t working as well,” he said.

Ratigan’s detractors criticize him for never having voted, an omission he’s explaining as a weariness with the usual, uninspiring candidates for office.

Another strong contender is Democrat Don Boyajian, a lawyer who’s also playing up his local roots. His website describes him as a “third generation native of Saratoga County.” Boyajian is so far leading fundraising among Democrats.

Gyory said it’s too early to even guess at the eventual winner: “I would not bet 50 cents much less $2 on the outcome of either a Democratic primary or the general election at this point.”

Anne Michaud

Pencil Point

Raiding the cookie jar

More cartoons of the day

Pointing Out

Rise of the opponents

Democrats across the country are seeing the energy of progressive activists translated into potentially bruising congressional primaries — from the activist in Texas opposed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s challenge from the left in California.

Until now, much of that energy in New York seems to have been directed at Republicans. (See the crowded fields looking to take down Reps. John Faso and Dan Donovan, for example.)

But Democrats haven’t been entirely spared from primaries: Reps. Tom Suozzi, Yvette Clarke and Joe Crowley already have challengers, for example, and they are joined by 10-term Rep. Gregory Meeks, who represents parts of Nassau County and Queens, and will be faced by NYPD Det. Carl Achille of Elmont.

Achille, a 34-year-old Iraq War veteran, tells The Point that he felt disheartened with “establishment Democrats” after the 2016 election. He supports such progressive causes as single-payer health care and disagrees firmly with President Donald Trump.

So far, however, Achille’s complaints about Meeks seem more about a search for fresh leadership than a leftist crusade.

“I’m running as a community advocate,” he says, noting he doesn’t want to be “pigeonholing” himself as appealing to just progressive voters. He says Meeks seems to be just “going through the motions.”

In an emailed statement, Meeks said he hopes to continue working “tirelessly” on behalf of constituents. For Achille, that old normal is too much of the same.

Mark Chiusano

Columns