‘We are go­ing to rise’

Con­gres­sional hope­ful feels op­ti­mistic, touts high-tech ed­u­ca­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - CAPITAL REGION - By David Lom­bardo

Demo­crat Pa­trick Nel­son is bet­ting that vot­ers in the 21st Con­gres­sional District will re­spond to his vi­sion for the fu­ture, which he ar­tic­u­lates with spe­cific pol­icy pro­pos­als and nu­anced ideas on the cam­paign trail.

“We have taken an out­ward fac­ing approach. It’s about what we can do for the voter,” Nel­son said of his at­tempt to win a five-way Demo­cratic pri­mary on June 26. The win­ner faces a po­ten­tial matchup in the fall with two-term in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Elise Ste­fanik.

Whether it’s “Medi­care for All,” stu­dent loan re­lief, es­tab­lish­ing a liv­ing wage, peace in the Mid­dle East or pro­tect­ing farm­land in the district, Nel­son speaks en­thu­si­as­ti­cally and with firm con­vic­tion. He also makes a point to iden­tify spe­cific pieces of leg­is­la­tion that he sup­ports.

“I want to demon­strate to the vot­ers that I have done my home­work,” he said.

It was his un­der­stand­ing of is­sues that first im­pressed Greg Young, a ward su­per­vi­sor in Gloversville, who met Nel­son at the 2016 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, where they were del­e­gates for op­pos­ing can­di­dates.

Young re­mem­bered div­ing into the weeds of com­mu­nity de­velop-

ment block grants with Nel­son and de­scribed him as the pol­icy ex­pert in the race. He said that peo­ple lis­ten­ing to Nel­son re­al­ize his depth of un­der­stand­ing and pas­sion about the is­sues in the district.

“I’ve never doubted his au­then­tic­ity for a minute,” Young said.

Some of Nel­son’s po­si­tions are ba­sic kitchen ta­ble con­cerns for vot­ers, like call­ing for a vet­er­ans hos­pi­tal in the re­gion and pro­mot­ing the growth of high-tech in­fras­truc­ture, but he also weighs in on broader is­sues, such as his op­po­si­tion to mov­ing the Amer­i­can em­bassy in Is­rael.

And while his cam­paign poli­cies are rooted in facts and fig­ures, he does be­gin to wax poetic when talk­ing about what government can ac­com­plish. “I’m in­cred­i­bly op­ti­mistic be­cause I be­lieve we’re go­ing to rise to the chal­lenges ahead,” he said.

Nel­son be­lieves his is­sues will res­onate with pri­mary vot­ers and points to his vic­tory in three out of five in­for­mal “straw polls” as ev­i­dence that he can win a crowded pri­mary. “When peo­ple hear the mes­sage ... they sup­port us over­whelm­ingly,” he said.

The ques­tion is how many vot­ers will re­ceive that mes­sage, as he lacks the cam­paign funds of some of his pri­mary op­po­nents, who can reach a large swath of peo­ple with tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tise­ments. In­stead, he touts a so­cial me­dia pres­ence.

If elected in Novem­ber, Nel­son, 28, would be younger than Ste­fanik when she took of­fice in 2015.

“It’s an as­set in a lot of ways,” he said of his age, ar­gu­ing that peo­ple want new lead­er­ship and blamed older gen­er­a­tions for the prob­lems that plague our so­ci­ety. It’s his youth, he con­tends, that al­lows him to bring a fresh per­spec­tive to Congress.

Young, 33, said Nel­son’s age res­onates with younger vot­ers, who don’t typ­i­cally vote at the same rate as older vot­ers, and could dis­rupt the tra­di­tional turnout for a pri­mary elec­tion.

He said mem­bers of Congress tend to be older and Nel­son would give a voice to an un­der­rep­re­sented de­mo­graphic.

Nel­son ac­knowl­edged there has been “a bit of an ageist push back” on the cam­paign trail, but he be­lieves those peo­ple sim­ply don’t know about his re­sume.

He grad­u­ated from Rens­se­laer Polytech­nic In­sti­tute in 2012 with a de­gree in bio­chem­istry and bio­physics and ven­tured into the world of star­tups with two nano-biotech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies. With only a few mem­bers of Congress pos­sess­ing high-tech de­grees or work ex­pe­ri­ences, Nel­son said he’ll be a valu­able ad­di­tion for ad­dress­ing 21st cen­tury is­sues, like reg­u­lat­ing cryp­tocur­ren­cies, deal­ing with cli­mate change and craft­ing drug reg­u­la­tions.

Vet­eran cam­paigner

This is not Nel­son’s first time cam­paign­ing in the 21st Con­gres­sional District, but he is in the rel­a­tively new po­si­tion of push­ing his own name.

“No­body spent more time knock­ing on doors over the last four years than I have,” he said.

In 2014, he was an in­tern for Demo­crat Aaron Woolf’s cam­paign and served as a se­nior staff mem­ber for Demo­crat Mike Der­rick’s ef­fort in 2016. Nel­son is proud of those pre­vi­ous ef­forts, which both lost over­whelm­ingly, but said he learned from the cam­paigns. Be­cause of his cam­paign ex­pe­ri­ence, he said he has got­ten to know the peo­ple and is­sues of the re­gion. “I ba­si­cally have a four-year de­gree on the 21st Con­gres­sional District,” Nel­son said.

His ed­u­ca­tion as a can­di­date for of­fice in­cludes an un­op­posed elec­tion to a county party po­si­tion, serv­ing as a Bernie San­ders pri­mary del­e­gate at the 2016 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion and a los­ing bid for the Still­wa­ter Town Board in 2015, when he came in third out of four can­di­dates in a race for two seats. Nel­son also has some gov­ern­men­tal ex­pe­ri­ence, with a brief stint in Assem­bly­man Phil Steck’s of­fice.

NEL­SON

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