The four county Democratic chairs in the 24th Congressional District are speaking out against a national party committee after the surprise entry of Juanita Perez Williams into the race.
The chairs released a joint statement Wednesday criticizing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for "meddling" in the 24th district race. The comments are in response to the DCCC's apparent effort to get Perez Williams, who ran unsuccessfully for Syracuse mayor last year, on the Democratic congressional primary ballot.
"The actions in NY-24 are unfortunately just the latest example of the DCCC not taking into account the work happening at the grassroots this year," the chairs wrote. "From leaders in the Indivisible movement to party and elected officials, we stand united behind our designated nominee, Dana Balter, and against D.C. meddling that has hampered far too many races thus far.
"We call on DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan and all staff involved to speak to the people doing the work on the ground and focus our collective energy and resources, like we have been for over a year, in unseating Trump-Ryan Republicans like John Katko."
Despite criticism from progressives and local Democratic officials, the DCCC has been active in primaries this year. In one Texas congressional primary, the DCCC took the unusual step of releasing opposition research on a Democratic candidate.
Before Perez Williams' opted to run for Congress, there was the possibility of a primary in the 24th district. Balter, D-Syracuse, won the Democratic designation in February, but another candidate — Bill Bass of Syracuse — decided he would remain in the race and force a primary.
Until this week, Balter and Bass were the only Democratic candidates seeking a spot on the ballot. With the deadline approaching to file petitions to the state Board of Elections, there was a surprise entrant: Perez Williams, who initially announced in January that she would not run for Congress this year. The DCCC had recruited Perez Williams to run, but she declined.
Perez Williams reportedly informed at least one local Democratic Party leader of her plans Tuesday, but hasn't made a formal announcement. She has a week to collect 1,250 signatures and submit them to the state Board of Elections. That's the minimum number of valid signatures needed to qualify for the June 26 primary ballot.
The deadline to file petitions is Thursday, April 12.
Collecting the necessary number of signatures is a considerable undertaking for any candidate, especially one without the party's support and no campaign infrastructure. But a central New York Democratic source said the DCCC is helping Perez Williams secure a spot on the primary ballot in June.
The DCCC declined to comment on Perez Williams' candidacy.
Chris Martin, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, responded to reports of the DCCC's involvement in the 24th district.
"The clock's ticking," Martin said. "How long does Dana Balter have until the DCCC drops another opposition research book on one of their own candidates?"
The DCCC's activities upset central New York activists, many of whom have been involved in rallies and other actions to oppose the Trump agenda.
Jonah Minkoff-Zern, a member of the Central New York Solidarity Coalition, lauded Balter and Perez Williams. He supported Perez Williams for Syracuse mayor in 2017 and is backing Balter in the congressional race.
Balter held a campaign fundraiser last week. Perez Williams was in attendance, Minkoff-Zern said.
Minkoff-Zern believes Balter is the best candidate to challenge Katko, R-Camillus, in the 24th district race.
"She didn't have a lot of money behind her. She didn't have a family name behind her. What she has is that she is an impressive person and a brilliant candidate who will do very well to represent us in Washington," Minkoff-Zern said. "And I don't think that it was right for the DCCC to come in and think that they know better than the people of central New York and try to meddle with that."
Even if Perez Williams is successful and can secure a spot on the primary ballot, Balter is still the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
Balter has been endorsed by the party committees and is supported by several grassroots groups. She picked up two more endorsements Tuesday from the Indivisible Project, a national anti-Trump group, and the Syracuse University College Democrats.
Nick Paprocki, Balter's finance director, said the Democratic candidate is focused on defeating Katko in November.
"John Katko puts the interests of his party leadership and his corporate donors ahead of the interests of his constituents. And central New Yorkers deserve better; they deserve a representative who will show up, listen and put the people of the 24th district first," Paprocki said. "Dana Balter is that representative."
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Nick Paprocki as Dana Balter's campaign manager. He is actually Balter's finance director.