Rep. Paul Tonko (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: June 18, 1949, Amsterdam .
Education: Clarkson U., B.S. 1981.
Elected office: Montgomery Cnty Bd. of Supervisors, 1974-83, Chmn. 1981; NY Assembly, 1983-2007
Professional Career: NY Dept. of Transportation, 1972-74; NY Dept. of Public Service, 1974-83; Pres. & CEO, NY St. Energy Research & Development Authority, 2007-08
The congressman from the 21st District is Paul Tonko, a Democrat elected in 2008. The grandson of Polish immigrants, Tonko was born in the old mill town of Amsterdam, N.Y., where he still lives. His working-class background gave him an appreciation for the “underdog” that remains the underpinning of his political beliefs. Attracted from a young age to public service, he built his career in state government, first at the New York Department of Transportation and then as an engineer at the Department of Public Service, the state’s utilities regulator. In 1974, at age 26, he became the youngest person ever elected to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors. He was elected board chairman in 1981. Tonko won a seat in the New York Assembly in a 1983 special election, and served for nearly a quarter-century. He won passage of a law requiring health insurers to cover most mental illnesses and another requiring social services workers to report all cases of suspected child abuse to the state. But he exercised his greatest influence over state energy policy, serving as chairman of the Assembly’s energy committee from 1992 to 2007, when he resigned to accept an appointment as head of the state’s Energy Research and Development Authority.
|Paul Tonko (D-WF)||171,286||(62%)||($753,520)|
|James Buhrmaster (R-C)||96,599||(35%)||($504,378)|
|Phillip Steck (Ind)||7,965||(3%)||($552,513)|
|Paul Tonko (D)||15,932||(40%)|
|Tracey Brooks (D)||12,166||(30%)|
|Phillip Steck (D)||7,498||(19%)|
|Darius Shahinfar (D)||4,002||(10%)|
His tenure there was short-lived. When Democratic Rep. Michael McNulty announced in October 2007 that he would not seek an 11th term in the 2008 election, Tonko began exploring a campaign to succeed him, and entered the race the following May. By then, the primary had already taken shape around two front-runners, Phil Steck, an Albany County legislator, and Tracey Brooks, a former regional director for New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Both enjoyed a head start raising money. Brooks won the backing of the powerful women’s fundraising group EMILY’s List and other national women’s campaign groups, along with high-profile endorsements from U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney of Manhattan and former Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro. But most of the local Democratic establishment lined up behind Tonko (McNulty remained neutral). Tonko won two important union endorsements, from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the local Service Employees International Union, as well as the backing of the state’s Working Families Party. With few differences between the candidates on major issues, the local support likely made the difference. Outraised and outspent by both Brooks and Steck, Tonko sailed to victory over both. He finished narrowly behind Brooks in her home base of Albany County, but won with huge margins on his own turf in Montgomery and Schenectady counties.
In the general election Tonko faced Republican Jim Buhrmaster, a Schenectady County legislator who hoped that his appeal to independents might help him overcome the huge registration advantage for Democrats in the district. But it was too tall an order for a seat Democrats have held since the 1950s. Tonko won with 62% of the vote. Buhrmaster received 35%, and Steck, who ran as an independent, received 3%.
Tonko got seats on the Science and Technology Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. He says he wants to focus on the issue he knows best, energy policy.