A year after his special election campaign was sidelined before the ballot was set, David Bellavia gets his chance Tuesday to echo the underdog victory that sent Representative Kathy Hochul to Washington.
He faces long odds in the 27th Congressional District Republican Primary, but Bellavia says he has a stronger connection to the local party’s rank-and-file. His pitch to voters is a dedication to service that he showed in six years as a soldier in the U.S. Army and in his actions in the seven years following his discharge.
“I believe that we serve our country because our country is worthy of that service. Principle, honor integrity are a way of life for me,” Bellavia said. “That’s what’s missing in Washington and in our national leaders.”
Bellavia said he would be “unapologetic” in his stances if elected. He has called for a law requiring a super majority in the House and Senate to raise taxes, voiced opposition to federal funding for abortion and a defunding and replacement of President Obama’s signature healthcare act.
“I won’t sugarcoat where I stand,” Bellavia said.
Bellavia joined the army after leaving college “about eight credits shy of a degree” and was deployed to Kosovo and Iraq during his military service. His actions during the Second Battle of Fallugah in 2004, during with his unit cleared blocks of the insurgent-filled area house-by-house, were awarded with a Silver Star and numerous other military recognitions.
That experience provided the backbone of a best-selling book authored by Bellavia and qualities he would bring to governance.
“Military service doesn’t qualify you for public office, but it shows a window into your soul,” Bellavia said. “That experience teaches you decisiveness.”
Maintaining ties to the military has been a hallmark of Bellavia’s time as a civilian. In 2005 he cofounded Vets for Freedom, which he said “grew into the largest War on Terror political action group in the country.” More than $10 million was raised by the organization’s political action committee and spent on campaigns — 13 candidates backed by the group have been elected to Congress — and advocacy for legislation.
He’s returned to the Middle East as an imbedded reporter and co-founded another group, the Warriors Legacy Foundation, that benefits soldiers.
Bellavia said he and Vets for Veterans have been sought-after advisors on military matters, citing his assistance to Senators McCain, Levin and Kerry in the planning of the National Defense Authorization Act. He feels that the organization’s work was critical in helping legislators agree to policies that improved the military situation in Iraw at a low-point in the war.
“Those were dark days for our foreign policy,” Bellavia said. “We were two senators away from a vote to pull out before the surge.”
Bellavia’s service is unquestioned by his electoral opponents, but an inability to play nice within his party has curtailed his recent efforts to represent the conservative constituency of rural western New York.
In 2011 Bellavia left his job as a food executive at Stueben Foods in Elma and campaigned for the Republican nomination, but was passed over by party officials for Assemblywoman Jane Corwin. He attempted to gain ballot access as a representative of the Federalist Party, an effort ended when he failed to file necessary paperwork. Bellavia became a vocal detractor of Corwin’s campaign and a open supporter of businessman Jack Davis, whose run on the Tea Party line siphoned voters from Corwin and gave Hochul an advantage in the race.
This time, Bellavia said he’s sought to better work with the party officials he attacked for lacking conservative bonafides a year ago.
“I’ve learned so much, a lot of humility,” Bellavia said. “People talk as if I’ve lost before, but it was because I failed to get endorsed by the individuals on the committees. I went right to the committees, grass roots party leaders. We came at this campaign from the bottom-up. That’s what’s going to help us win on Tuesday and beat Hochul, respecting the constituents.”
That approach largely been seen in face-to-face situations and not in advertisements. In disclosure reporting required of all House candidates, Bellavia estimated his 2012 income at less than $12,000 to date, and reported credit debt ranging from $15,000 to $50,000. His latest campaign finance report to the Federal Election Commission shows that, through June 6, Bellavia For Congress raised $95,839 — including a personal loan of $45,000 from Bellavia — and spent $51,825.
“It’s frustrating to me, I don’t have the money to defend my record,” Bellavia said. “It’s tough to make a living as a writer ... We deserve to have representation as middle class working people. This isn’t just something for the wealthy ... We need people who can speak towards that.”
Contact reporter Jim Krencik at 798-1400, ext. 6327.