By: USA Today Washington Bureau Reporter Brian Tumulty @NYinDC

WASHINGTON – Martin Babinec of Little Falls wants voters in the Binghamton area and Mohawk Valley to do for him what Vermont voters did for Bernie Sanders.

Before Sanders won election to the U.S. Senate, he was the last independent to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, winning in eight consecutive House races beginning in November 1990.

Babinec hopes to repeat that feat as a third-party candidate in the open-seat race to replace Republican Rep. Richard Hanna in New York’s 22nd Congressional District. The district is anchored by Binghamton, Cortland, Utica and Rome.

“The idea of running as an independent in most years would be considered as insanity,’’ Babinec acknowledged in an interview.

But in this election cycle, he said, “Voters are absolutely frustrated and downright angry with what’s happened in both parties. They don’t like the choices at the top of the ticket. And they blame party leadership for the outcome we have now in the general election. So they are actually embracing the idea of supporting an independent.’’

If he’s elected, Babinec said he would work with both major parties and pull them to the political center.

This 61-year-old businessman already has invested $1 million of his own money in the three-way race.

Babinec founded a firm in the San Francisco Bay area in 1988 that’s now traded on the New York Stock Exchange. That company, TriNet Group, handles payroll and health benefits for small- and medium-sized businesses and provides advice on employment law issues and risk reduction.

Although he’s no longer an executive at the firm, Babinec received $53,250 last year as a director and $453,000 from exercising stock options. A native of Little Falls, he moved his family back to the area in 1999, commuting to the West Coast for many years.

Babinec said he’s running because he wants to promote job creation in the region. He founded Upstate Venture Connect in 2010 to help New York’s first-time entrepreneurs connect with the resources they need to grow, and he later co-founded StartFast Venture Accelerator to invest in high-growth startups.

But the region still needs leadership from a member of Congress who can make economic growth happen, he said.

“For example, if I were to call together a meeting of the college presidents for the 12 colleges in the district, if I were a congressman, they would show up,” Babinec said.  “And if I were to suggest some initiatives that would have some collaboration between some of our economic development organizations and our higher education resources, I would be in a position to influence that in a greater fashion than I can do as a volunteer. This is how we bring about change.’’

During a visit to Washington this week seeking endorsements from national organizations, Babinec said he’s ready to spend “whatever it takes’’ to win in order to bring what he sees as much-needed leadership for job creation in the region.

“It’s safe to say that I would not have made the level of investment that I did if I didn’t have a plan to carry me through to the general election,” he said. “The issue of funding isn’t going to be the issue here in this campaign. Whoever wins this campaign is going to do so on the issue of message and appeal to voters.”

Babinec hasn’t received any endorsements yet, but he’s talked to Hanna, among others.

In the race for Hanna’s seat, he’s competing with Republican state Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney of New Hartford and Broome County Democratic Legislator Kim Myers of Vestal. Before Babinec’s entry, the two already were locked in what the nonpartisan Cook Political Report considered a toss-up race.

Hanna, who recently became the first Republican House member to announce he’ll vote for Hillary Clinton in November, also has said he won’t endorse Tenney,  who ran against him in a tea party-inspired Republican primary two years ago.

“Congressman Hanna has not decided on any endorsements, but he has met with both Ms. Myers and Mr. Babinec,’’ Hanna’s spokeswoman, Renee Gamela, said Tuesday in an email. “He will not endorse an extreme Tea Party candidate.”

Babinec describes himself as a lifelong political independent. According to Federal Election Commission records, he has donated over $37,000 to both Democratic and Republican candidates in federal campaigns over the years, but more often to Democrats, including Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

If he’s elected, Babinec said, he’ll caucus with House Republicans.

His campaign began running TV ads again this week in Binghamton, Utica and Syracuse after first airing them in June during a three-way Republican primary to let voters know he’s available as an alternative.

In the June primary, Babinec won the Reform Party line with 21 write-in votes to six for Tenney and one for another Republican, George Phillips. Tenney had been endorsed by the Reform Party, but Babinec challenged it by using the arcane “opportunity to ballot’’ process that allows write-in candidates.

Tenney concentrated her time and resources on successfully winning the Republican primary. She also has the Conservative Party line. Myers also has the Working Families Party line.

Last week, Babinec filed more than 10,000 voter signatures to also create an Upstate Jobs Party ballot line.

Tenney has filed objections to those petitions, but Babinec needs only 3,500 of the signatures to be certified as valid to get his ballot line.

Regardless of that outcome, Babinec will be on the ballot as a third-party candidate.

Myers’ campaign spokesman, Greg Catlin, said the race will be interesting because “two conservatives” will be running against Myers.

“We look forward to a robust campaign with all the candidates so voters can learn more about Kim Myers’ record of hard work and service to the community, from 18 years on the Vestal School Board to helping grow Dick’s Sporting Goods into the company it is today,” Catlin said. Myers’ father founded Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Tenney’s spokeswoman, Hannah Andrews, described Myers and Babinec as candidates “the Washington elite would love to have in this seat,” while Tenney is “someone Washington insiders don’t want.”

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