John Plumb, the Democratic candidate for the 23rd Congressional District seat, says his primary motivation to run for Congress next year was getting U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, out of office.

John Plumb, the Democratic candidate for the 23rd Congressional District seat, says his primary motivation to run for Congress next year was getting U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, out of office.

“I don’t think he’s represented the area well, and it’s the reason I’m running,” Plumb said in his first interview with The Leader since announcing his candidacy in July. “If I felt the area was being represented well, I don’t care if someone’s a Republican or a Democrat, I would not be part of this race. But I think this district should do better, and I think I can offer a viable alternative and show some actual leadership.”

Plumb also called the current Congress “an embarrassment.”

Born and raised in the Jamestown area, Plumb, 45, was a Navy submarine officer who became a top military advisor in President Barack Obama’s administration and recently moved back to western New York to run for Congress.

He’ll face Reed in the November 2016 election for the right to represent the 11-county 23rd District, which spans much of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions.

But defeating Reed - the attorney, businessman and former Corning mayor who was first elected to Congress in 2010 - isn’t Plumb’s sole reason for running.

“I’ve got a lifetime of service to the country, I’m not done serving, and I’m hyper-aware all the time that all the blessings in my life have come from this area where I grew up, so I’d like to give back,” Plumb said.

Plumb says his experience in the military and White House will serve him well.

“I think the leadership roles I’ve had over the last 20 years of my life will help,” Plumb said. “One of the things that’s nice about the military is we take all comers. It doesn’t matter what anybody’s background is or what their political beliefs are - it’s just how you move forward and get the job done, and I think that’s one of the things missing from our congressman.”

Plumb graduated from the University of Notre Dame, and got a Ph.D in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado before serving as a submarine officer in the Navy. He later held positions as principal director of nuclear and missile defense policy at the U.S. Department of Defense, and most recently as director of defense policy and strategy on the National Security Council.

He says his top priority if elected will be economic development, especially in rural areas of the 23rd District, and has mentioned upgrading infrastructure, increasing high-speed Internet access, and making small business loans more available as ways to achieve that.

“There’s no silver bullets, but we need someone who will work on protecting the jobs we have, growing the businesses we have, and encouraging new businesses where there’s opportunities,” he said.

Plumb didn’t speak much to the press or make many public appearances in the two months that followed his announcement, but says he’s been laying the groundwork for what figures to be a long and tightly contested race for the 23rd.

“Frankly, I’ve been getting the campaign rolling,” he said. “You don’t quite know how much work it is until you actually get into it, and realize you’re never going to have enough time. I’ve just been basically getting off the ground, building up some steam, and moving forward. Meeting some people, working on policy issues, fundraising issues, making sure I understand some of the problems.”

He says he’s started traveling the district, meeting privately with small groups, including a meeting with Democrats in Corning last week.

Shawn Hogan, chairman of the Steuben County Democratic Party, said Plumb will be a tough opponent for Reed.

“I’m very impressed with him, his knowledge of the issues, his awareness of the issues here in the Southern Tier,” Hogan said. “Certainly he is well-rounded and well-grounded.”

While Reed’s challengers in the past two elections, Nate Shinagawa and Martha Robertson, were both from the Ithaca area, Plumb’s roots in the western part of the 23rd District give him a different perspective, Hogan said.

Hogan said Plumb has the backing of the Democratic county chairs in the 23rd, including Irene Stein, the Tompkins County chair. Hogan wasn’t expecting another Democrat to enter the race.

“He’s made his case to the political leadership and now he’s got to make his case to the people,” Hogan said.

Plumb has drawn criticism from several Republican County chairs for being a candidate who was “dropped in” just to run for Congress.

"This is someone who was living in Washington for the last ten years and working for the administration and was an advisor on the failed foreign policy of the Obama administration," said Sandy King, chair of the Yates County Republican Party. "The biggest issue we face here in the Finger Lakes is job creation and economic development and a bureaucrat from Washington does not have the experience to create jobs and develop our economy.”

Nonsense, Hogan said. Plumb left upstate New York for college, the military and his career, no different than many other people who have left the region, Hogan said.

“What’s to say he can’t come home to try to make a difference? So this argument that he was dropped in here, it just flies in the face of reason,” Hogan said.

Reed, who returned to Washington D.C. this week for fall session of Congress, brushed aside Plumb’s comments about his job performance during a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

“As campaigns gear up, the rhetoric, I guess, will take its course. But ultimately it’s up to the people,” Reed said. “I welcome anyone to the race, but it’s a long season, so I don’t really have any comment.”

However, Nick Weinstein, Reed’s political director, said Reed “has a proven record of accessibility and bipartisan leadership representing the Southern Tier.”

“Tom has created jobs and run small businesses right here in the 23rd District,” Weinstein said via email. “That background is what this area needs and deserves - a representative that has fought to create jobs, defend our property rights and reign in government spending, rather than someone who worked in the Obama White House and only moved here just a few months ago.”