PLEASANT VALLEY — Saying he wants to take North Central West Virginia "to the next level," state House of Delegates member Mike Caputo announced Tuesday afternoon that he is running for state Senate in 2020.
People packed the room at the Holiday Inn Express in Pleasant Valley for the announcement, which was met with applause and cheers.
"I guess we'll just get this out of the way right now, I'm going to run for your state senator," he told the crowd, several of whom held campaign signs.
Caputo is running for the seat that will be left vacant by Senator Roman Prezioso, who also serves as Senate Minority Leader. Last month, Prezioso said he won't seek re-election to the state senate.
Caputo said Prezioso has been a great public servant for the area for many years.
"No one was more shocked than I when he announced he was not seeking re-election," Caputo said. "So many of you in this room and outside this room, quite frankly, reached out to me and asked me if I would consider running for the Senate. And I reached out to many of you in this room once that became a reality, quite frankly."
He said it was a difficult decision, noting that he talked with both supporters and his family.
Caputo said he was impressed by the large crowd that showed up for the announcement.
"This is just amazing, and I want to continue the good work that Sen. Prezioso and I and the other representatives from North Central West Virginia has done for the last several years," he said. "We got a lot of good things happening right here in North Central West Virginia, and we need to keep those things moving."
Caputo cited many of the institutions that, he said, make the region viable.
"We're moving a lot of dirt, we're developing a lot of ground. We have Fairmont State University right here. We have our flagship university, WVU. We have Pierpont Community and Technical College. We have the greatest healthcare systems in the world, right here in north central West Virginia. We got the high tech corridor. We got great public schools and great teachers," he said.
He also said the area was "really knocking it out of the park" with tourism.
Caputo said jobs come along with these positive developments, and "we have to keep moving in that direction to keep our economy strong and moving in North Central West Virginia."
But he said things need to be taken "to the next level," and elected officials are needed who are willing to partner with businesses and labor and understand their needs.
"Because that's how you create good paying jobs," he said. "It's not by drawing the line in the sand and trying to divide people. It's by working together."
"I want to be your senator and I want to take North Central West Virginia to the next level," he said. He noted the diverse make-up of the crowd.
"We've got Republicans, we've got Democrats, we've got independents," he said, saying his own colleagues were also in the audience.
He said officials from Marion and Monongalia counties were also present, along with business leaders, small business owners, labor leaders, workers from the building trades, coal miners, teachers, school service personnel, people from WVU, Fairmont State and Pierpont, law enforcement officials including both sheriffs from Marion and Monongalia counites, ministers and veterans.
He said that's what his campaign was all about -- bringing people together.
"I want to work in a bipartisan fashion to find compromise that makes sense and continues to bring jobs to north central West Virginia," he said.
He also had a strong message about West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael.
"If Mitch Carmichael and his leadership team want to continue down this path of disrespecting workers, disrespecting our great teachers and school service personnel, you have my absolute word, if it's a fight he wants, it is a fight he will get," he said. "It is a fight he will get." The comment was met with applause.
Caputo outlined some of his goals. He said he wants to work to protect the people who built West Virginia and the education system and pass legislation that benefits everyone, not just the wealthy.
"I want to take care of workers and veterans and senior citizens, and I want to protect what I believe to be the future of West Virginia, and that's our children, absolutely," He said.
Caputo said his campaign will not be about him, but about us.
"I want it to be about us, because you, ladies and gentlemen, are my special interests. You, in this room, are my special interests. I'm not owned by any lobbyists, I'm not owned by any corporation, I vote what I believe is best for my constituents. I assure you that we will always work together because your ideas matter to me," he said.
UMWA International President Cecil Roberts introduced Caputo, and said Caputo was the first one there to comfort him when his mother and father died.
He said Caputo is "always the first person to rally around you when you got problems in your life."
He expressed his appreciation for Caputo.
"I just wanted to say that this is a real person, and what we need in this country are people who are more real people, who come from working class families and who worked in a coal mine, a steel mill or some place and understands that everybody is not rich," Roberts said.
He said Caputo "has always made our government work for all of us."
After he stepped away from the podium, Caputo said he knows Marion County well, and plans to continue what he has been doing for Marion County. But he said he will reach out to people in Monongalia County, attending more events and functions there, so he can understand the needs of that part of the district.
He said he made the decision to run about a week ago.
When asked about his top three goals, Caputo said he wants to protect the taxpayers and finances of the state, do what he can to grow jobs and look out for the children.
JD Wilson of Morgantown, a staff representative for District 8 of the United Steelworkers, attended the announcement in support of Caputo.
"Mike stands up for the working class," he said. "He's always been there to fight the fights that we can't. He's been our voice at a higher level, which is something that we haven't had."
He said he stands by Caputo 100 percent.
Monongalia County Sheriff Perry Palmer also supported Caputo.
He said he's known Caputo "forever," and said Caputo has been a big supporter of him in Monongalia County.
Palmer said Caputo "really is what he says" and is "after the best interests" of the people.
He said Caputo has always been there and been willing to listen and help out the state sheriff's association.
Chad Laya of Rivesville, a union sheet metal worker of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 33, also attended to support Caputo.
"I support Mike because he always supports the average, everyday worker," Laya said. He said Caputo is "very honest."
Joe Reynolds of Rivesville, a member of the UMWA, said he's known Caputo for more than 41 years was part of Caputo's initial run for the House of Delegates.
"I've seen him grow and evolve and make all the citizens of West Virginia inclusive in his decisions," he said. "He's compassionate, he's intelligent, patient, hard-working, he's intuitive. He takes every problem that he hears, it's like he takes it as a personal quest."
Last March, Caputo become embroiled in a controversy at the State Capitol when a was accused of striking a House of Delegates doorkeeper and fellow Delegate Sharon Malcolm. He was later charged with a misdemeanor.