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February 8, 2013

Activist considers challenge to Gibson

By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — Just three months after Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, won re-election by withstanding Democratic attack ads, the retired Army officer already has a potential challenger: a wealthy activist involved in the national push to legalize same-sex marriage.

Sean Eldridge, 26, of the Ulster County hamlet of Shokan, has opened a campaign committee by way of a filing with the Federal Elections Commission.

The next election is 21 months away.

Eldridge, a Democrat who married Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes last year and runs an investment company, “is seriously considering the race,” spokesman Mike Morey said Thursday.

Eldridge and Hughes have both been prominent political supporters of President Barack Obama. In 2011, Eldridge started Hudson River Ventures, which describes itself as a company that “works to empower entrepreneurs and build thriving businesses throughout the Hudson Valley.

The net worth of Eldridge and Hughes has been estimated at $500 million.

Asked about the possible candidacy of Eldridge, Gibson, who opened a regional office Thursday in the village of Cooperstown, said: “I’m here to serve. We just had an election and we have to get to work.”

He said he was not focused on politics but is instead trying to help bring about a federal budget agreement and promote “pro-growth” economic policies.

“I need to focus on what people sent me to Washington to do,” Gibson said.

Eldridge, a native of Toledo, Ohio, attended Columbia Law School, but left in 2009 to promote legislation allowing gay marriage after the state Senate rejected a bill that year that would have authorized it in New York. The legislation passed in 2011.

In addition to promoting stronger civil rights protections for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people, Eldridge last year started Protect Our Democracy, a group that advocates for campaign finance reform.

At the grand opening of Gibson’s new office at 25 Chestnut St., Anthony Casale, a former assemblyman who is now a strategist for the state GOP, suggested that Eldridge will turn off voters by making a political splash right on the heels of last November’s elections.

“I think this guy is starting way too early, and the people are tired of politics 24/7, 365 days of the year,” Casale said.

Gibson’s new office is staffed by one of his constituent services representatives, Ridge Harris. In addition, Mark Westcott, a field representative for Gibson, said he will make regular stops at the office.

Gibson said the office will help people with questions about veterans benefits, Social Security, Medicare, passports, immigration, federal tax issues, military service and Service Academy nominations.

The congressman said he believes the controversial gun control legislation enacted in Albany last month is flawed and will be overturned in the courts. He also predicted that Obama’s gun control proposals, framed after the massacre of school children in Newtown, Conn., will fail to win congressional approval.

“At this point what I want to see us do is take a hard look at mental health,” Gibson said. “We certainly want to do this in a smart way so that we don’t infringe on anyone’s rights.”

Cooperstown Village Mayor Jeff Katz, a Democrat who attended the grand opening with his wife, Karen, said he welcomes the new congressional office.

“To have a congressional office in the village is a huge plus,” Katz said. “I’ve very happy he is here. I have worked really well with Chris. In terms of availability, communication and interest in what we do, he has been great. I have no complaints.”

Asked about Eldridge’s interest in taking the office, the mayor said, “I’ve never heard of the guy.”