HORNELL — They say that "still waters run deep", and congressional candidate Max Della Pia (D-Owego), a measured-minded military man, hopes that a lifetime of service and head full of policy ideas is his edge as he meets voters across the 23rd Congressional District. 

Della Pia spent nearly 30 years as an Air Force pilot, officer and commander; then served as Brigadier General of the NY Air National Guard, overseeing 1,260 reservists at Schenectady, a $93 million budget and 14 LC-130 aircraft under his command, which deeply informs his decision making. 

He is a former Brookings Institute Fellow, who worked under Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and as a Senate Air Force liaison for a short time, a former defense attorney, and worked for defense contractor Lockheed Martin for five years.

"My whole life has been about serving people and caring about people. It's been my focus and it motivates me and defines me," he said. 

Della Pia found his spark for government and politics early in his career. While working under Levin in the Senate, an LC-130 crashed at the end of a runway, killing three people and injuring seven others in Honduras.

"I knew those people and had flown with them for 11 years. I found out they didn't have insurance. Not only did they not have insurance, they only got continuation pay during a long recovery period," he said.

He sent the problem up the chain of command, and helped draft a letter prompting the U.S. Senate to act, succeeding in a clarification of the law for incoming reservists.

"It was a highlight of my career, because I didn't walk door to door with bags of money trying to contribute to someones campaign or influence votes. I went with a passion and a desire to help people, and they listened. I know how the system works and when it works."

However, until now, Della Pia had not run for public office. A moment that proved to be a catalyst in his decision to run came during his attendance at a Town Hall Meeting held by sitting Congressman Tom Reed (R-Corning).

"I told my wife, 'that person is not representing me, or you, or anybody in this district. It's all about special interests and self interest,'" he recalled. 

The candidate identified special interests as a "domestic threat" to American democracy, something he took an oath to defend in the military.

"It's corrosive and damaging," he warned. "If you're going to change it, you have to start with the kind of person you send to Congress. It has to be someone with integrity ... otherwise, we're going to have more of the same." 

According to Della Pia, Reed doesn't stand up to such interests, especially in the area of healthcare, a universal necessity among constituents. 

"He has consistently disregarded the best interest of the people he represents, and has supported a president who says 'healthcare is complicated', but what isn't complicated is to make a commitment as a country to say 'Healthcare is not a privilege, it should be a right,'" he said. "Special interest are driving up the costs to levels that are obscene."

Della Pia officially jumped into the race in July, when he first filed with the Federal Elections Commission ahead of a key deadline.

The candidate was born in Michigan, and moved 10 times during his Air Force career before settling in New York State in 1999, and settling in his present home of Oswego in 2008. 

"I love the people and the area. It's a great place to raise kids, but I'm watching what's going on and I'm not seeing new economic activity. I'm seeing stagnant wages and very little opportunity with people moving out," he said. 

The Democrat recognized that above and beyond those who cannot find work, there are many "asset limited, income constrained employed" who don't make a comfortable wage. He railed for better opportunity, training and wages. Realizing those needs is the key to victory in the traditionally Republican district, according to Della Pia. 

"People are suffering, many haven't had raises in 8, 10, 12 years," he said. "I've met people almost in tears. A lot of people are under the poverty line, or are working poor. If you add them together it's a huge proportion. We need to get people to not vote against their interests." 

Della Pia also believes that the tax burden must be shifted off the shoulders of the middle class, where it has been put by Republican plans that favor the wealthy, in his estimation.

"If you make the equivalent of 5,000 good-paying jobs as CEO, you already have more money in a year than you can spend in 1,000 lifetimes. You're not going to spend the money, you're gong to invest it. If you want to have an economic driver, you need to give that tax break to the middle class to create a multiplier effect," he said.

Further exacerbating the problem is the opioid crisis, which is killing roughly 22,000 people each year across the country. Della Pia also offered policy prescriptions for the issue. 

"I'm all for law and order, but when people are dying and doing it at that rate, we need to respond with something other than saying, 'If you lace your drugs with fentanyl, you get the death penalty if it results in a death.'"

That notion was touted in the spring as a victory for Reed, who was a co-sponsor of a bill supporting that idea. Della Pia said that he wants to address the root of the problem, and pulling children away from the allure of drugs with new opportunity. 

Additionally, the congressional hopeful says he's tackling the campaign with a local focus, becoming an expert on each area's needs, which include addressing aging infrastructure across the Southern Tier. 

"We need to rebuild a crumbling infrastructure, and it should be built and renewed by people who live and work here, bringing in training that gives people opportunity and hope," he outlined. 

He harkened back to examples of major investments in infrastructure like the post-World War II Berlin Airlift, and the building of the Interstate Highway System in the United States under President Eisenhower, that had truly global impacts on the economic landscape. 

Della Pia also insisted bolstering competitiveness of the local economy by expanding the availability of broadband. 

While the Democratic field to take on Reed has swelled to eight, Della Pia was confident that his life experiences make him "a credible person on the very first day in Congress."

The candidate is banking on voters will consider the kind of world they want to live in before voting in November 2018.

"We need to send someone to congress who has the maturity, diplomacy and statesmanship to perhaps bite his tongue and make deals for their constituency and the nation," he said. "The common thread in my career and campaign has been serving and caring for others."