When Bill Owens announced recently that he would not be running for Congress again, it came as a surprise to many in the North Country. But on closer inspection, his decision is easier to understand.
Owens spent his career in Plattsburgh, working at longtime State Sen. Ronald B. Stafford’s law firm. Stafford was one of the most powerful Republicans in New York. So Owens’s decision to seek the congressional seat in 2009 as a Democrat was unexpected.
To win, Owens would need the perfect circumstances, since a Democrat had not held the seat since the Civil War era. That is just what he got.
Since it was a special election in a year with few high-profile congressional races, the contest drew national attention. The Democratic Party poured in funds and resources for Owens, who was a strong candidate due to his intelligence and experience as a lawyer involved in many local fields — health care and economic development among them.
The situation got better for Owens when Republicans chose Assemblywoman Dierdre “Dede” Scozzafava as their candidate despite party dissension with the decision.
Then, Douglas Hoffman of Saranac Lake decided to run as a Conservative Party candidate, all but assuring a close race.
Scozzafava withdrew three days before the election and supported Owens, which was the final push he needed to nab the historic win.
While the victory was satisfying for Owens and the Democrats, there was little time to dwell on success. He faced stiff challenges in 2010 and again in 2012 from Republican Matt Doheny but was able to survive.
This year, however, it looked as if the magic might be running out.
With the party backing in 2009 came the assumption that Owens would support the Affordable Health Care Act, which he did, making clear that he had read the bill in its entirety.