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Riley seeks to 'finish the job' in rematch against Molinaro

Republican Marc Molinaro and Democrat Josh Riley continue to benefit from outside spending in the 19th District race. (Vaughn Golden/WSKG)
Vaughn Golden
Democrat Josh Riley (right) is entering next year's race for the 19th Congressional District, setting up a potential rematch between himself and Rep. Marc Molinaro (left).

Earlier this week, Josh Riley declared his candidacy for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, likely setting up a rematch of his 2022 race against now-incumbent Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-19).

Riley discussed his candidacy with WSKG in Endicott, where he grew up, and how he plans on approaching his second bid for Congress.

“I'm getting across the district, meeting as many folks as I possibly can, having a message that's less about Democrat versus Republican and more about change versus the status quo,” Riley said.

Asked about Riley’s entrance to the race, Molinaro said he’s not focused on campaigning at this point.

“I'm working with Republicans and Democrats all across this district. I think people have had enough campaign politics and so I'm just going to focus on doing the job,” Molinaro said.

Vaughn Golden: So you're running again, I guess the big question is, what's different this time around?

Josh Riley: Yeah, well, you know, I'm running now for the same reasons I ran in 2022, which is I don't think our political and economic systems are working well for working families across upstate New York in neighborhoods like this, where I grew up on Birdsall Street. One of the things I found during the last campaign is that so many families are facing real challenges when they're sitting down and trying to balance the budget, trying to keep their place in the middle class, trying to get into the middle class. And you can draw a direct line from the challenges they're facing to the corrupting influence of corporate money in our politics. There's tons of examples of this. One that we've just seen in the last couple of months. My opponent, Mark Molinaro, voted to help oil companies that are engaged in price gouging. That's probably great for the big oil companies that are bankrolling his campaign, but it's terrible for working families in neighborhoods like this. And so, I'm running for Congress to change that I'm running for Congress to fight for neighborhoods like this, that I grew up in not the special interests.

VG: Why not give somebody else a chance to run again for this seat. You were unsuccessful last time of course.

JR: I've been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support I got and the encouragement I got to run again. A lot of first time candidates don't win their first race, and then they win their second. And we have all the hallmarks of a successful campaign going into 2024. We got 49.2%, in a really challenging environment with redistricting and a late primary. That margin of less than 4,500 votes, I know we can overcome that. One of the things I'm really proud of from our last campaign is that we brought together Democrats and Republicans and independents. We had so many folks who split their tickets and voted for our campaign. We had more volunteer shifts in any Democratic challenger campaign in the entire country during the weekend before the election. That shows a huge amount of support and enthusiasm for the campaign and we raised more money during the general election than any Democrat running for the House in New York and we did that without taking any corporate PAC money, the majority of our contributions were actually $25 or less. So, we built a very, very strong foundation in 2022 and we're going to finish the job in 2024.

VG: What’s different strategically, this time around, compared to last time.

JR: You know, I'm going to continue to do the things that worked during the last campaign make sure I'm getting, well for one thing, you know, make sure I'm getting across the district, meeting as many folks as I possibly can, having a message that's less about Democrat versus Republican and more about change versus the status quo. I was so encouraged during the last campaign. A lot of people share my view that politics, as usual, isn't working and they want new voices and new leadership. So I'm going to continue to offer that. I'm going to continue to offer a vision for economic revitalization across upstate New York that builds on the really strong manufacturing history that we have in communities like this. I mean, here, you look all these houses on this neighborhood, they were all they were all built by Endicott Johnson. And so all the folks who worked here, the house I grew up in was a couple doors down. My great grandpa lived down the street. And it's folks who, who built the things the world needed to meet some of our biggest challenges. When we trampled fascism during the World Wars, the soldiers were wearing boots that were made down the street here. When the technology revolution happened, it was because of the circuit boards we built at IBM. And my vision for the future, and I don't think this is a Democratic idea or Republican idea, I think it's an upstate New York idea, my vision for the future is one where people have access to good jobs, good wages, a clear path to the middle class and an opportunity to make the things the world needs to meet the moment.

VG: You mentioned redistricting. Right now, there is a court case going to the appellate division could go all the way to the Court of Appeals to have the IRC redraw the maps again. I can't believe we're saying this in 2023, but do you want to see the IRC redraw the maps or are you just comfortable running in this district as it is?

JR: Yeah, I'm running this campaign to run in this district against this opponent and to finish the work that I started in 2022 and finish the job and 2024. We'll let the court process play out. I've been pretty clear about my views with respect to redistricting generally. I think we should have a federal law that applies to all of the states that makes the districts as competitive as possible. One of the things I think a lot of folks are, you go to any door down here and knock on the door, I guarantee everybody is going to tell you one of the things that are really fed up with with politics is the extremism that's tearing people apart. One of the reasons you have that is through gerrymandering that we're seeing in some of the states where you have really red districts and really blue districts that forced everybody off into their corner. So I, I'm excited about running in a district like this. It's very competitive and I think that's, that's the way it should be.

VG: Anything else to add?

JR: You might have seen, one of the things I'm really excited about in the first 48 hours of this campaign, we released a statement of support from 20 Democratic county chairs and vice chairs across the district, folks who encouraged me to run again and know that we can finish the job. And just this morning, we announced that, in the first 24 hours of the campaign, we raised a quarter of a million dollars and of course, none of that came from corporate PACs.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.