POTSDAM — Just a few minutes before Patrick Nelson’s town hall meeting was about to start Thursday night, there was some speculation that the village’s Summer Festival might be keeping people away.

If Mr. Nelson was concerned, he didn’t show it.

“This is our seventh event like this,” the Stillwater native said. “We’ve had as many at 60 or 70 people and as few as five.”

Mr. Nelson is running for the Democratic nomination for New York’s 21st Congressional District. He is one of four candidates in the race. The others are Tedra Cobb of Canton, Katie K. Wilson of Keene and Emily Martz of Saranac Lake. The winner will face Congresswoman Elise A. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, in November 2018.

In the end, about two dozen folks gathered around tables formed in a semi-circle facing the candidate at a small desk in the middle of the Community Meeting room in the Potsdam Town Hall.

With the small crowd, Mr. Nelson opted to go to a more personal level and had everyone in attendance introduce themselves and asked that the meeting be treated like a round table. As the conversation evolved through the two-hour session, Mr. Nelson was listening, at times, as much as he was talking.

The first hour of the night was dedicated to talking about health care.

“This race (with Ms. Stefanik) will be defined by health care,” Mr. Nelson said.

While Nelson is a proponent of a single-payer health care system, he recognizes the hurdles, such as a powerful insurance lobby, such a system would face.

The plans that Republicans are working on now to repeal and replace the current health care system, he said, will not lower premiums or offer the protections people have now.

“Whatever happens,” Mr. Nelson said, “it will be some worse version of the Affordable Care Act.”

His number one issue on Ms. Stefanik’s health care stance is her dishonesty, he said.

“When we asked how she was going to vote, she said she was reading and evaluating,” he said, “while she was actually on the whip team, working behind the scenes to get the bill passed.”

While health care discussion was laced through the two-hour meeting, the topics ranged far and wide.

Nelson spoke in favor of student debt relief, a tuition-free public university system, improvement to Northern New York infrastructure, school funding reform, efforts to improve wages and an end to the drug war.

Mr. Nelson and audience members acknowledged that he was mostly preaching to the choir in this small meeting.

A good portion of the meeting focused on strategies to defeat Ms. Stefanik in 2018.

“You have to make her greatest strength her greatest weakness,” he said referring to Ms. Stefanik’s impressive fundraising ability.

“We’ve sworn off corporate money,” Mr. Nelson said, explaining that he could not criticise Ms. Stefanik’s methods if he looked to the same sources.

Since January, his campaign has raised $18,000. Most of his donations are small, with an average of $37.

He pointed to the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as an example of how far a candidate can go with small donations.

Mark A. Martin, Potsdam, said he came to the meeting to gather information on the candidate and came away impressed.

“I didn’t agree with everything he said, but he seemed open to listening to other points of view,” Mr. Martin said.

Martin, a Democrat who supported Mr. Sanders in the last election, said health care and economic development, especially for low-income people, are his biggest issues.

“I think those are critical for the north country,” he said.

“I think this was good,” Mr. Nelson said as the room emptied at the end of the meeting. “There are benefits to different levels of turnout. It’s about forming a collaborative relationship.”

Mr. Nelson’s next town hall meeting will be in Argyle in Washington County on July 29.

“My favorite line in this campaign is that there are 700,000 people in this district and every one of them knows something that I don’t know,” Mr. Nelson said.

Patrick NelsonComment