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‘Listen to folks’ is top priority for Robertson in bid to unseat Reed

More than a year and a half before the next congressional election, Democrat Martha Robertson on Thursday announced her candidacy against Republican Rep. Tom Reed during a swing through the 23rd District’s western counties.

The chairwoman of the Tompkins County Legislature appeared in Dunkirk, Jamestown, Olean, Wellsville and Hornell to kick off a candidacy she said is deliberately timed for an early start.

“It’s going to take some time to get out and introduce myself and, most importantly, listen to folks,” she said.

A county legislator since 2002, Robertson launches a campaign against a conservative Republican who posted a tighter-than-expected victory over Democrat Nate Shinagawa in 2012. In recent months, Reed has adopted a more moderate image in a district that became more Democratic after reapportionment added mostly Democratic Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Last month, Reed announced that he had joined No Labels, a large and bipartisan group aimed at problem-solving rather than opponent-bashing.

And Shinagawa, another Tompkins County legislator, is managing Robertson’s new campaign.

Robertson, who is also chairwoman of the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency, said creating jobs and improving the Western New York economy would be her top priorities, along with protecting Medicare and Social Security while “investing in education.”

But she also said that as head of a legislature she knows how to close budget gaps, cut funding when necessary and make priorities.

With new efforts to enact federal gun-control legislation in the headlines this week, Robertson said she did not know enough about the Washington proposals to comment at this time.

She did say, however, that she found parts of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s new gun-control law “admirable” and others “problematic.”

“I think we ought to do a better job of enforcing the laws we have,” she said, criticizing Cuomo’s cuts to mental health and dispute resolution programs that she said ultimately help reduce violence.

Robertson said she has worked in a bipartisan fashion throughout her political career and can do it in Washington.

She is a former small-business owner and teacher who also worked in a women’s alumnae program for her alma mater, Cornell University.

The candidate is expected to continue her announcement tour today through the eastern end of the 11-county district.