Born: Nov. 9, 1962
Family: Married, Robin Katko; three children
Education: Niagara University, B.A., 1984; Syracuse University College of Law, J.D., 1988
Career: Justice Department attorney, 1995-2014; Securities and Exchange Commission attorney, 1991-95
Elected Office: None
Republican John Katko, a former federal prosecutor, made a late surge in the polls and defeated Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei. Katko successfully leveraged his law-and-order credentials and hammered home the GOP’s longtime characterization of Maffei as a Washington insider — a tactic that worked well this time against the former congressional staffer whose support among voters had never been a sure thing.
Katko grew up in Onondaga County, then attended Niagara University and Syracuse University’s law school. He worked for a D.C. law firm before taking a position at the Securities and Exchange Commission. In two decades at the Justice Department, he served as a special assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia’s Eastern District and worked for the criminal division. He returned home in 1988 and worked a variety of drug-enforcement-related jobs with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York.
Katko retired from the Justice Department in January to challenge Maffei, a former congressman who briefly lost his seat in the 2010 GOP wave and earned it back in 2012 — albeit with just 49 percent of the vote (President Obama received 57 percent in the district). Katko had the GOP primary field to himself after Ian Hunter, a conservative from Syracuse, abruptly announced in April that he was abandoning his run.
Like Maffei’s previous Republican opponents, Katko tried to depict the congressman as an out-of-touch Beltway insider. Republicans pointed to Maffei’s purchase of a $700,000 house in the Washington area. And Katko drew substantial media attention when he noted that Maffei and his wife had their baby in a D.C. hospital, a question that the congressman said was “out of bounds.” Katko responded at a debate that Maffei put the name of the hospital in a news release: “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”
As in past campaigns, Maffei emphasized his moderate stripes and nonideological pragmatism. He also criticized Obama’s handling of the Ebola situation in the United States and declared his unhappiness with the administration over its handling of the conflict in Syria.
Maffei and Democrats tried to poke holes in Katko’s record as a prosecutor, criticizing him for his handling of a local mayor’s sex-offender case as well as for an incident involving a gun that was stolen from Katko in 2000 and used in a robbery that left two people dead. Katko complained that such campaign attacks “destroyed my character.” But he overtook his opponent in polls in the race’s final week and snared the endorsement of local digital paper Syracuse.com, which said Maffei’s performance in office has been “steady but uninspiring…. It’s time to give someone else a chance.”