CORTLAND, N.Y. - In front of the Veterans for Foreign Wars building on Main Street Wednesday morning, Heath Phillips told a small crowd of community members and reporters that he plans to take on Republican Congresswoman Claudia Tenney in the 2018 election.
While the election is nearly 16 months away, the U.S. Navy veteran and human rights advocate said he decided to throw his hat in the ring early in an effort to build a grassroots following.
“I have a national name but I don’t have a local name,” Phillips said.
The Cincinnatus man has worked with big names like New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Ohio Congressman Mike Turner to enact legislation to improve healthcare expansion, shed light on military sexual assault issues, and bolster women’s rights. Locally, Phillips has served as the town chairperson for the Cortland County Democratic Committee, a position he recently resigned from to pursue his campaign for elected office.
Phillips, who will be running on the Democratic party line, has received the endorsement of Mary Leonard, who was the first female mayor of the city of Cortland.
While he plans to address a number of issues during his campaign, he says his biggest fight will be healthcare. Phillips is not a fan of Congresswoman Tenney, who he says “won’t stand up to Trump.”
“If the new health care bill passes, it’s going to mess the seniors up,” Phillips said.
Tenney has served as the representative for the 22nd congressional district since she was declared the victor in the 2016 election in what was a hotly contested three-way race. She replaced Richard Hanna, a moderate Republican who represented the district since 2010.
The district covers a large portion of central New York, including all of Cortland, Chenango, Madison, and Oneida counties, as well as parts of Broome, Herkimer, Oswego, and Tioga counties.
While Phillips has worked on advocacy issues in the nation’s capital, he said he wants to paint himself as a Washington outsider and a candidate of the people.
“This is probably one of the most important things I’ll ever do in my life,” he said. “It’s a much needed time.”