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Former White House military aide Plumb to challenge Rep. Tom Reed

WASHINGTON – A former top military aide in the Obama White House has returned home to the Jamestown area to prepare to challenge Rep. Tom Reed in the 2016 election.

John F. Plumb, who served as director of defense policy and strategy at the National Security Council, told The Buffalo News that family and friends persuaded him to move back to the Southern Tier, thinking he could be a strong Democratic challenger to Reed, the Republican from Corning.

“I don’t think he’s represented the area very well,” said Plumb, 45.

Citing Reed’s vote to shut down the Department of Homeland Security in a budget dispute, Plumb added: “I think he puts himself before the region over and over.” If elected in the Southern Tier’s sprawling 23rd district, Plumb vowed to make economic development his top priority.

“My roots are here,” said Plumb, who was born in Jamestown and raised in Randolph, and who moved back to Lakewood in May. “Every time I’ve come back through the area, I can’t escape the feeling that the area just keeps getting left behind ... The area needs someone that can represent it in a way that puts this region above politics, and that’s what I think I can do.” Plumb comes to the congressional race with a résumé that’s decidedly different from the last two Democrats who challenged Reed: Ithaca-area county legislators Nate Shinagawa and Martha Robertson.

A Notre Dame graduate with a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado, Plumb is a former Navy submarine officer who still serves as a commander in the Navy Reserves.

Plumb said he was detailed to work on issues such as Russia, Ukraine, nuclear deterrence and missile defense at the National Security Council in the White House, a position he resigned from to run for Congress. Plumb previously served as acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy and as the Pentagon’s principal director for nuclear and missile defense policy. He also served as an aide to U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.

Plumb said he intended to focus on bringing jobs to a district that stretches from the Chautauqua County shores of Lake Erie all the way to Tioga County, with a northern extension that carries it past the New York State Thruway in Ontario and Seneca counties.

He said he hopes to encourage the growth of small manufacturers to the district, and that he plans to travel the district and meet with farmers so that he can best address their needs.

But fracking – which Reed supports – would not be part of Plumb’s economic development plan.

Even though President Obama has supported fracking and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently found no consistent threat to groundwater supplies because of fracking, Plumb’s view on the issue is closer to that of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has banned fracking in the state.

“This area is special and we have to protect our soil and water,” said Plumb, saying that the controversial natural gas drilling technique has been underregulated.

Though Plumb is a newcomer to retail politics, he comes to the race with an important ally.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is tasked with electing more Democrats to the House, reached out to The Buffalo News to arrange the interview with Plumb.

That committee’s involvement could signal a tough race for Reed, who narrowly defeated Shinagawa in 2012 before swamping Robertson by 25 points last year.

But Reed starts the race with some strengths: name recognition, a perch on the influential House Ways and Means Committee and the fundraising ability that comes with incumbency.

Reed’s campaign announced last week that it has raised more than $775,000 so far this year.

“I am overwhelmed by the support we have received,” said Reed, a lawyer who was first elected to Congress in 2010. “That more than 1,300 people right here in upstate New York would be willing to invest their hard-earned funds in helping our campaign is very humbling. We keep fighting and working every day for this area we have called home for our entire lives.”