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Woolf news conference derailed by questions on Affordable Care Act, SAFE Act and Social Security

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WATERTOWN — A news conference Thursday about women’s issues in the race for New York’s 21st Congressional District was derailed by questions about Democratic candidate Aaron G. Woolf’s stance on the Affordable Care Act, the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act and Social Security.

Pressed by WWNY-TV 7 News Director Scott D. Atkinson if he would have voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Mr. Woolf called the question a “hypothetical” and said he was focused on improving the legislation.

“I think from the start of this campaign I’ve been very clear what my position is,” Mr. Woolf said. “The Affordable Care Act is a piece of legislation that had, certainly, problems, problems with its rollout, but my position is strongly to improve the legislation that we have. My opponent has talked about repealing and replacing, but no Republican has come up with a comprehensive plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.”

Asked if he would have voted for the Affordable Care Act in Congress, Mr. Woolf said, “That is a total hypothetical and I think my position has been very clear.”

Asked if he thought the voters of the district had a right to know where he stood on the issue, Mr. Woolf said, “Absolutely. The voters have a right to know what I would do if I was elected to Congress and that would be to improve that legislation.”

Mr. Woolf, who faces Republican and Conservative nominee Elise M. Stefanik and Green Party candidate Matthew J. Funiciello in November, said he would consider making small changes to the Affordable Care Act.

“I think we can begin by easing some of the burden on small businesses with the employer mandate,” Mr. Woolf said. “I think we can include businesses that have up to 50 employees instead of just 25. I think we can provide tax breaks that will help particularly small businesses to adapt to the legislation. I think those are important steps we can take.”

An unidentified woman asked Mr. Woolf where he stood on the NY SAFE Act, gun control legislation passed in 2013 that has proved unpopular in the north country.

“I have come out against the SAFE Act,” Mr. Woolf said. “Reflexively, my grandfather was a cop so when the legislation was first being considered, one of the things I did was I talked to a lot of law enforcement. I think this is an issue about which many people of good conscience can disagree.”

The news conference was held shortly after the 94th anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, on Aug. 26, 1920.

During the conference, Mr. Woolf was endorsed by Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and spoke about a slate of proposals he said would help give women the same rights and opportunities as men.

Mr. Woolf said he supported the Paycheck Fairness Act, which his opponent Ms. Stefanik also has publicly supported, though her party has blocked the legislation, citing the threat of increased lawsuits.

Mr. Woolf also said he would support pro-choice legislation; the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and the Violence Against Women Act, and pledged to protect paid family and medical leave.

Mr. Woolf also said he supported the Military Justice Improvement Act proposed by fellow New York Democrat U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, which would move prosecution of sexual assault crimes outside the chain of command and into the hands of independent military prosecutors.

Asked about the criticism that removing that process from the discretion of a military commander would degrade unit cohesion, Mr. Woolf said, “I am a strong supporter of the military, a strong supporter of Fort Drum, and a strong supporter of our incredible men and women that serve, but I think that having both men and women feel safe and empowered in whatever capacity they find themselves in the military is only going to strengthen our military and not weaken it.”

Before the conference was opened to questions, Stacy L. Baum, 18, of Alexandria Bay, a student at SUNY Oswego in the class of 2018, read a statement in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act and raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

“Given the extraordinary cost of college and the countless stories of being trapped by student debt, I was determined to not be that person,” Ms. Baum said. “I applied for a second job as a sales associate at a liquor store, trying to make ends meet as far as paying for textbooks, course materials and, of course, the rest of the expenses not covered by my federal application for student aid. ... However, I was making 75 cents less an hour than any of my male coworkers at that position. Why? I was doing the same work but receiving less money. To me, that is completely unjust and there is no justification that will be able to explain that.”

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