When newly elected Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) was sworn into office Friday, he became the first Democrat to represent the 23rd district of New York since the 19th century.
Owens, a longtime tax attorney, was elected to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. John McHugh (R), who resigned to take a Cabinet post as secretary of the Army. Owens was born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island before moving upstate more than 30 years ago. He comes from a military family: His father served in World War II, and his great-grandfather fought in the Civil War. Owens himself is a veteran of the Air Force, having served as a captain stationed on the Plattsburgh (N.Y.) Air Force Base.
He currently serves as the managing partner at the Plattsburgh law firm Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane & Trombley, where he specializes in business and tax law. During his tenure at the firm, Owens got to know now-deceased Republican state Sen. Ronald Stafford, an association that may have helped him gain credibility with conservative voters.
Owens is also an adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, where he teaches courses on business law. In addition, he’s well-known in the community for hosting a local public television show, “Business Affairs,— from 2003 to 2009.
On Tuesday, Owens defeated Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman with 49 percent of the vote to Hoffman’s 45 percent. Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava dropped out of the race days before the election because of low polling numbers, paving the way for Hoffman to garner the GOP vote. Because Owens is a registered Independent, he had to get the signatures of all the Democratic county chairmen and chairwomen in the 23rd district before he could go on the ballot as such. Owens would not comment for this story.
“What we were really looking for in the end is someone who can resonate with the moderate parts of both parties and I think Mr. Owens can do that,— said Sue Montgomery Corey, Essex County Democratic Party chairwoman.
Owens ran on a platform that supported health care reform, job creation and maintaining the base at Fort Drum, which has been threatened by the Base Realignment and Closure process. During his campaign, Hoffman campaigned against earmarks, which many worried would hurt the base’s appropriations.
Owens has a history of working to keep military bases running. When the Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed in 1995, he helped create the Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corp., an industrial park and airport, which ensured that the land was used to create jobs.
“The only way that we can create jobs and attract economic development to our communities is by bringing people of all parties together and giving everyone a seat at the table,— he said in the victory speech he delivered on election night.
He also vowed to help veterans by getting them better health care coverage and ensuring that their homes will not be foreclosed on while they are overseas.
Owens has been married to his wife, Jane, for 36 years. He has three grown children and three grandchildren living in upstate New York.