Congressional candidates in a fight to the finish

Democrat Phillip Steck is betting his house that he will win Tuesday’s primary for the 21st Congress

Democrat Phillip Steck is betting his house that he will win Tuesday’s primary for the 21st Congressional District.

He took out a nearly $100,000 home equity loan and put the money into his campaign, according to spokesman Tom Nardacci.

“He sees the race as competitive and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him,” Nardacci said.

Steck is using the money for advertisements and mailings to reach Democrats who remain undecided on which candidate to support.

He isn’t the only one making a final push for victory.

Democratic candidate Tracey Brooks loaned her campaign $50,000 for the final days before the primary, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

“It is going to the final get-out-the vote effort,” said campaign spokesman Kyle Kotary. “Tracey is working hard to earn the support of every voter in the district. She is maintaining an incredibly energetic, enthusiastic and tiring schedule of 16- to 18-hour days of phone calling, walking and doing events. She is fighting to the very end, and that will show in the end.”

And Democratic candidate Darius Shahinfar recently purchased nearly $200,000 in television time and is sending out mass mailings. The money represents the bulk of his contributions.

Shahinfar did little TV advertising and few mailings prior to his big push, focusing instead on pounding the pavement and knocking on doors.

“We are looking at a number of undecided voters, and we feel the message Darius is carrying will be effective,” said campaign manager Peter Clerkin.

In short, the battle for the 21st Congressional District seat is going down to the wire. The primary is Tuesday.

“It is a wide-open race,” said Brooks spokesman Kyle Kotary.

Clerkin said the race remains competitive because a fair number of people remain undecided.

“People don’t know too much about the candidates,” he said.

Steck spokesman Tom Nardacci said the final days of the campaign are critical in swaying undecided voters, hence the major push to send out mailings, run TV and radio commercials and place thousands of phone calls.

“It’s a full-court press,” Kotary said. “It’s about talking to every single voter you can and not leaving any opportunities uncovered.”

By the numbers

Democrats Brooks, Shahinfar, Steck, Joseph Sullivan and Paul Tonko and Republicans James Buhrmaster and Steven Vasquez are seeking the House of Representatives seat being vacated by Democrat Michael McNulty of Green Island. McNulty is retiring in January after 20 years in Congress.

The district is heavily Democratic and has been in the hands of Democrats for decades. It includes Albany, Schenectady, Montgomery and Schoharie counties and parts of Fulton, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties.

Candidates in both major parties have already spent more than $1 million on the campaign. In the latest financial disclosures to the Federal Election Commission, dated Wednesday, Steck loaned his campaign $94,000 and Brooks loaned hers $50,000. Tonko received $8,000 in new contributions. The remaining candidates filed no new reports beyond their Aug. 20 filings.

Steck to date has spent $277,000 of the $355,000 he has raised, not including the $94,000 he just added to his campaign. Brooks has spent the most out of the candidates — $437,000 of the $502,673 she has raised, excluing her latest investment.

Tonko, who joined the race late, has lagged behind the other candidates in fundraising, collecting $250,916. He has spent his money on TV ads and mailings but had focused most of his time on meeting people, said spokesman Beau Duffy.

“Paul’s forte is getting out with people and getting out his message,” Duffy said.

Brain Quail, chairman of the Schenectady County Democratic Committee, said he remains confident Tonko will win.

Tonko retains strong name recognition among voters, primarily based on his 24 years as an assemblyman in the 105th District. The 21st Congressional District encompasses large parts of the 105th District.

In addition, Tonko has the backing of various Democratic county committees and labor unions. He also has the Working Families Party’s endorsement.

Steck has the Independence Party line.

Tonko is expected to win Schenectady and Montgomery counties, his longtime bases. However, Albany County remains the key battleground in the primary, and it is unclear how well he will do there.

Nardacci said he expects 50,000 Democrats to vote in the primary, or about 30 percent of the total possible. Of the 50,000, between 50 percent and 57 percent will be Albany County Democrats, he said.

Key Albany County Democratic leaders have split their support among the candidates. Albany County Executive Michael Breslin and Albany state Sen. Neil Breslin support Tonko. The Albany County Democratic Committee and dozens of local party officials support Steck.

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, McNulty’s father, Jack McNulty, former mayor of Green Island, and McNulty’s sister, Green Island Mayor Ellen McNulty Ryan, support Brooks. She also has the support of several labor unions and several special interest groups, such as Emily’s List, and of local party officials.

Shahinfar is waging a grass-roots campaign and has few major endorsements. Sullivan has no endorsements and very little money.

“Every voter makes a difference. It is a close election,” Quail said.


On the Republican side, Buhrmaster is waging a strong campaign against Vasquez. He has raised $167,000 and has the endorsements of every county Republican committee in the 21st District, and he has the Conservative Party ballot line. Vasquez has few endorsements and has raised little money.

Buhrmaster spokesman Josh Hills said the campaign is taking the primary seriously, however.

“We are confident we will win, but we are not taking any chances,” he said.

The Buhrmaster campaign is sending out a third and possibly a fourth mailer before Tuesday.

“We think it is important to show that the Republican base is strong and behind Jim,” Hills said.

A strong turnout also sends a message to Democrats, Hills added.

“We have an eye toward the future,” he said.

Buhrmaster hopes to step up fundraising efforts after the primary for the general election.

“After the primary, you will see an exchange of ideas and you will see some very sharp difference no matter who their candidate is,” Hills said.

Republicans believe they have a chance in the district because of the large number of voters who do not belong to any party, Hills said.

“There are 100,000 blanks. It is a whole different situation when it is an open seat,” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County


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