HeroVet: Dan Stewart, Truck Driver Joins The New York Political Establishment

Dan Stewart

He was not the most conforming of children in Pawtucket and later in Cumberland, Rhode Island. If he hadn’t joined the Air Force in 1980, Dan Stewart - “Mayor Dan” to his constituents in the pleasant city of Plattsburgh in the northern reaches of New York State - might have led a life filled with regret.

Investing the next eight years in the military, however, turned out to be “the best thing I could have done,” he says.

His hitch, which included a three-year tour of duty at the since shuttered Plattsburgh Air Force Base, taught Dan Stewart “discipline. I learned I had to listen, to take input from others.” He learned something just as valuable as well.

“Coming from a very racist area, I was exposed for the first time to being with people of different races and religions. I learned tolerance. I learned acceptance. I learned to keep an open mind.”

These are lessons that have served him well.

Driving Trucks, Driving for Votes

When he left the military in 1988, Dan Stewart drove a truck for the next five years, working for the St. Johnsbury trucking company. When that concern went out of business in 1992, throwing 4,000 men and women out of work, Dan had time to consider the possibilities and look to the future.

Always enamored of electoral politics, armed with a continuing desire to serve, and attracted to “being an active part of what’s going on in the community,” he decided to run for office, for a seat on Plattsburgh’s City Council. Being candid with voters about his private life was important to him in his campaign. He had some major personal issues he had already dealt with, including the fact that he was a “recovered” alcoholic. With “not too many pros but a lot of cons” in his corner, success at the polls seemed remote. He was a long shot.

“As illogical as it might seem,” Dan says in a telephone conversation from his office in the heart of historic Plattsburgh on the shores of Lake Champlain, “people around here don’t believe in government interference in our lives. And the bottom line was: I’ll get the potholes filled, and I’ll do my best to keep taxes down, and I’ll work as hard as I can to give the best quality of life I can” for all the citizens of the city, despite the then threatened closure of the Plattsburgh Air Base.

He won by a two-and-a-half to one margin: a landslide.

Moving On

After three terms in the Council, marked by an acrimonious switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party, Dan Stewart decided he’d had enough of politics. In 1999, he announced that he would move from his adopted city of Plattsburgh, which had attracted him with its leisurely pace, its easy transportation and its low crime rate, to cosmopolitan Montreal, a scant 60 miles away.

The Republicans, however, were seeking a viable candidate to challenge five-term incumbent Mayor Clyde Rabideau. They approached him. Party leaders, including New York Governor George Pataki, offered him their unconditional support. The lure of the race was too great, and Dan decided to run.

He ran on his vision of redeveloping the city’s waterfront on Lake Champlain, of attracting new industry, and of making Plattsburgh a destination center, rather than a pit stop on the way to somewhere else. Again, his message resonated with the voters. And, in what most of the political commentators and party bigwigs considered a major upset, Dan Stewart, who was 30 points behind in the polls in September, in November 2000 defeated Clyde Rabideau, shocking the political establishment.

“I live in a city that knows how to treat people decently,” he said at a press conference in the wake of his victory. “We won because we dealt with the issues.”

Said Governor Pataki: “He has a great vision for Plattsburgh.”

Indeed, he says with pride, Plattsburgh is highly rated as one of the most livable small cities in the country, an ideal place to which corporations might seek to relocate, where they can join such corporate luminaries as Pratt & Whitney, Bombardier, Georgia Pacific, and Wyeth Ayerst.

As the Mayor of Plattsburgh--whose 19,000 year-round population swells to 26,000 during the school year with a branch of the State University of New York located there-Dan Stewart is sparked by ideas and plans and goals to revive his city, which was badly bruised when the Air Force moved out.

Despite the closing of the Plattsburg Air Force base, Mayor Stewart is still leading a community that is dedicated to service. The National Guardsman housed at the INTREPID SEA-AIR -SPACE Museum in NYC, and now protecting Ground Zero, Penn Station, Grand Central and other critical locations, are coming down from a Plattsburgh unit. As a way to support their efforts and other National Guardsman serving around the nation, Amtrak is offering 50% off to National Guard, who use the train to travel to their assignments, such as New York City.

Mayor Dan would encourage all who have served in our military forces to take advantage of Amtrak’s special offers for Veterans, and consider a trip north on Amtrak’s Adirondack Train, stopping at the Plattsburgh station. Besides the tremendous number of historical sites to visit, he is particularly proud that, come spring, a 350-passenger tour boat will ply the waters of Lake Champlain, which, he is quick to point out, is a world-class fishery with the best small-mouth bass in the country.

Dan Stewart, the Mayor, is not only true to himself, but he is doing his best to be true to his campaign promises, to continue to serve, and to deliver his vision of what his city can be.

Dan Stewart is a member of VeteransAdvantage.

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