An activist linked to a Democratic candidate in New York’s 21st district has been cut off from the campaign after he said the Republican in the race, Elise Stefanik, should publicly reveal whether she is in a relationship.
Michael Flynn—a supporter of Democrat Aaron Woolf in the House race in New York’s North Country—wrote in the Watertown Daily Times last Friday that Woolf’s Republican opponent, Elise Stefanik, should disclose whether she has a "private relationship with anyone."
"In a congressional race, I think it not only fair but necessary to go on the record about your relationships," Flynn wrote in a letter to the editor. "I don’t think this falls under the heading of prying eyes; it’s an indicator of what you are about as a person and candidate for congressional office."
The letter immediately drew accusations of sexism.
"Would Flynn be asking this question of a successful, single man running for office?" wrote Ashe Schow with the Washington Examiner. "He did not immediately respond to a Washington Examiner request for comment."
Woolf, the Democratic candidate, also condemned Flynn’s query in a tweet that Friday.
"I denounce the letter in today’s @WDTnews," Woolf wrote. "It is reprehensible and antithetic to what this campaign does or should represent."
However, the Daily Caller reported on Monday that Flynn is now claiming that he wrote letters to local newspapers at the behest of Woolf’s campaign. Flynn previously said in the Times letter that he was "not in any formal way affiliated with the Aaron Woolf campaign."
Flynn posted Facebook correspondence and emails with Stuart Rosenberg, Woolf’s campaign manager, and Ryan Smith, a regional field director for the New York State Democratic Party, on a local blog. One email from Smith includes topics that Flynn could write about in newspaper letters, such as "getting answers" and "public rights to be informed."
"These were the issues you were going to write about," Smith said in the email Flynn posted. "If you can get it out to the papers as soon as you can."
However, Rosenberg said in a Facebook chat that he did not condone writing about Stefanik’s private relationships. "As I've said previously, I ask that you not pursue this. But, again, you're your own man," Rosenberg said.
Flynn wrote in an error-ridden post that the Woolf campaign gave him an informal role to pen letters about "topics I mentioned."
"Did I have informal contact with Woolf Campaign—yes I did and it's hypocritical for them to duck that point in my opinion," he said.
Flynn posted the conversations on Watertown Mayor Jeffrey Graham’s blog. Graham wrote on Monday that "it's common for campaigns to coordinate letter writing efforts in a way that bolsters the narrative of the campaign."
"Whenever someone who is married with children runs against someone not married and without children there is always some kind of effort to suggest there is something amiss with the barren candidate," Graham wrote.
"It's just how do you talk about that openly as it’s awkward. One way is to use third parties to introduce the suggestions into the debate through letters to the editor, blog posts or talk shows … There is also the so called ‘whisper campaign.’"
The Woolf campaign has vehemently denied that it asked Flynn to write the letter to the Times about Stefanik’s personal relationships. The campaign maintains that Flynn was simply a volunteer, and that he was immediately barred from participating in any further campaign activities after the letter’s publication.
Correspondence between the Woolf campaign and Flynn about informing the public referred to Stefanik’s stance on entitlement programs, said Woolf communications director Yianni Varonis.
"These exchanges were entirely focused on our efforts to get Elise Stefanik to finally come clean on her plans to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits for North Country citizens," Varonis said in an emailed statement. "Her campaign keeps pushing this story to divert attention away from the fact that, it’s been 147 days, and Elise Stefanik still refuses to say if she supports her mentor Paul Ryan’s plan to end the Medicare guarantee."
Woolf has made "women’s rights" issues a key part of his campaign, according to local media reports.
The New York House race is rated a "Toss Up" by Real Clear Politics. Stefanik is a former economic and domestic policy staffer for the George W. Bush administration, while Woolf is a filmmaker.