Susan Savage is out and Paul Tonko in, politicians say, as part of the latest changes in the lineup of candidates for the 21st Congressional District race.
U.S. Rep. Michael R. McNulty, D-Green Island, announced in October he would retire in 2009 after 20 years in the House.
Savage, of Niskayuna, is a Democrat and chairwoman of the Schenectady County Legislature. Tonko, also a Democrat, is a former state assemblyman for the 105th District and is now CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Corp.
Savage announced Monday she would not seek McNulty’s seat. In the same announcement, she mentioned Tonko as interested in running for the seat. Tonko did not return repeated calls for comment.
She added both Tonko and Schenectady Mayor Brian U. Stratton would make strong candidates. Several others are interested, and there may be both Democratic and Republican primaries.
Savage said she considered a run for the seat after McNulty made his announcement. The congressional seat has opened but twice in 50 years.
But she changed her mind after her father, Charles, died several weeks ago, Savage said. “I made my decision recently. I lost my father, but he was more than a father to me. He was a great adviser to me and I always looked to him for guidance in making big decisions,” she said. Her father served 22 years in the Cayuaga County Legislature.
In an earlier interview, she said her parents would have joined her in Washington, D.C., had she been elected, to help look after her children.
Savage said she will now focus her energies on Schenectady County. “Currently, I like what I do and I like the changes I was able to effect on Schenectady County. My mother and my children suffered a great loss and I am happy to be closer to home,” she said.
Savage did not rule out other options. “There is always time to run for other things. Just because I am not running today does not preclude my running for something else,” she said.
Her four-year term in the county Legislature expires in 2009. She was re-elected chairwoman for a second two-year term in January.
Meanwhile, Tonko’s name surfaced in recent weeks within local, state and Washington, D.C., circles as someone interested in McNulty’s seat, several political observers said. Gov. Eliot Spitzer appointed Tonko to head NYSERDA last year after Tonko finished serving 24 years in the Assembly.
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Carrie James, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, said she had heard Tonko may enter the race, although he has yet to contact the committee. “He has not reached out to us; it’s not a protocol, but it is common for a candidate who is interested in running to give us a heads up,” she said.
James said the committee will not get directly involved in the race, as it is considered a safe Democratic seat, but it will provide advice and guidance to candidates and incumbents.
Most likely, James said, “whoever wins the [Democratic] primary will probably get elected.” The primary would be in the fall.
Charles Diamond, McNulty’s chief of staff, said he heard consideration of Tonko as a candidate. He has not spoken with Tonko directly, however.
“It’s pure speculation, but with Tonko coming in, it makes the race interesting,” Diamond said.
Tonko would give Stratton a strong challenge, Diamond said. Tonko represented Montgomery and portions of Schenectady County in the Assembly, and he remains well regarded in the community and has strong name recognition.
McNulty’s congressional district consists of parts of Fulton, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties and all of Albany, Montgomery, Schenectady and Schoharie counties.
Stratton has name recognition in Montgomery County, as well, obtained when he ran against state Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna, of the 44th District, several years ago, Diamond said.
Stratton was not available for comment on Monday. He said in an earlier interview he would announce his plans after today’s “Super Tuesday” primary.
James and Diamond said names of others Democrats they have heard include Tracy Brooks, who is regional director for U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in New York; and Albany County Legislator Phil Steck, the Colonie Democratic Committee chairman .
Republicans J. Christopher Callaghan, a former Saratoga County treasurer, and Warren Redlich, a Guilderland board member who lost races to McNulty in 2004 and 2006, said they will seek the seat.
There are over 50,000 more enrolled Democrats than Republicans in the district.
Albany County has a numerical advantage in the district. Diamond said in a primary, Albany would account for 60 percent of the vote, while Schenectady would have 17 percent, Rensselaer 12 percent and the rest scattered.
Steck and Redlich have created committees to collect money for their campaigns. The committees are listed with Federal Election Commission and both report they have not raised any money as of yet.
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