Businessman Andrew Heaney, with roots in Long Island and Queens and now a Dutchess resident, allows that his quest for the Republican nomination for Congress might be considered “a little preposterous” at this stage of his life, what with young children and a new startup. He nevertheless believes his candidacy would give voice to what he terms “the forgotten interior.”
In September 2013, more than a year before U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson announced he would not be seeking a fourth term in 2016, Heaney moved with his wife and three children to the outskirts of Millbrook in central Dutchess County horse country.
Heaney had sold the oil co-op business he took over in his early 20s, when his father died, and started a propane gas company. Part-time renters in Millbrook since 2009, he and his wife had been considering moving out of the silk-stocking Upper East Side. “We surprised ourselves,” he said. “We turned our lives upside down.”
Heaney, 42, has never sought political office. He said his interest in Congress didn’t jell until shortly after Gibson made his retirement announcement in mid-January. “Some [Republican] leaders approached me,” he said. “At the time [January] there seemed to be at least ten people in the field. They were looking for someone with business experience, someone with no baggage.”
Heaney said he “talked to Gibson’s people” and other Republican leaders around the district, stood in fields with farmers and their families, talked to shop owners and businesspeople on their premises, and studied the geographically vast 19th Congressional District in detail.
“In one form or another, the economy was the first eight subjects,” he said.
Heaney called the eleven-county congressional district a “perfect reflection of the American interior, broad, diverse, with no political logic to it.” Democrats hold a small registration advantage in the sprawling 700,000-resident district.
“This section of America has been totally left behind as cheap money has washed down on the cities and suburbs,” Heaney said. He believes his experience and success as a small business owner helps him better understand the issues and challenges facing those businesses, which he says will be the driving force in revitalizing upstate New York.
He cites Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp as his role models. He says he, like Gibson, supports term limits, “generally around three terms.”
Heaney wouldn’t pick a personal favorite in the crowded Republican presidential field. He likes South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsay Graham, “a man who wouldn’t draw three votes in the 19th District.”
Noting that a third of people in the district are “almost at poverty level,” he called for reforms in the federal payroll tax. Unlike the income tax, taxes levied for Social Security are regressive, he said. “People don’t realize it, but the federal government raises almost as much money with the payroll tax as it does with the income tax,” he said.
He favors “enterprise zones” to jump-start rural economies.
He owns rifles but doesn’t have a pistol permit. He expressed concern about “untrained” gun-licensed civilians, as per Ulster Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum’s recent call to arms.
He doesn’t support federal funding of abortion, but said he was not “going to Washington to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
He and his wife Leslie are involved in a broad range of civic activities in the Millbrook area, most involving their children.
Heaney has raised more than $600,000 for his campaign through some 600 contributions ranging to the top legal limit of $2,700 per supporter. He did not contribute his own money. “I think it’s like selling any product,” he said. “You have to go out and meet people and give them a rationale that you can win.”
Heavey, an independent voter for most of his life, contributed to President Barack Obama’s first campaign. He had his differences with Hillary Clinton. “At the time, he was hardly registering in the polls, but I thought she was running a racist campaign, at least it looked like her people were,” he said. “I was disgusted.”
He takes a more guarded view of Obama these days. “Last night [Sunday] the president outlined some steps about terrorism that I think in large measure are correct,” he said. “Let’s hope he means it.”
Heaney is a Yale graduate who earned an MBA from Harvard University at 25 while operating his oil business.
Others who could be in the race
Former assemblyman John Faso of Kinderhook and Assemblyman Peter Lopez of Schoharie, both longtime political figures, have also announced for the Republican nomination. No Democrat has formally announced, though Democratic county chairs in the district have urged County Executive Mike Hein to run. Hein said he has taken it under consideration.
Heaney said he has been notified that Republican county chairmen will meet next week to work out a process of nomination. It will probably include candidates addressing county conventions, perhaps in January.
Nominating petitions begin circulating in early February, with a primary date of June 28.
The district encompasses about 7,400 square miles (Ulster covers 1,124 square miles) stretching from Orange County on the Hudson, west to the Southern Tier and north into the Adirondacks. With about 182,000 people, Ulster is the most populous single county fully in the district.