Saratoga County

Tonko getting set for new duties in Washington, D.C.

Congressman-elect Paul Tonko was fielding phone calls Monday from the same small office in Albany th
Paul Tonko stands in front of his former headquarters at 706 Madison Avenue in Albany Monday afternoon.  The building is now a transition office for the congressman elect.
Paul Tonko stands in front of his former headquarters at 706 Madison Avenue in Albany Monday afternoon. The building is now a transition office for the congressman elect.

Congressman-elect Paul Tonko was fielding phone calls Monday from the same small office in Albany that he used to run his winning campaign to represent the 21st Congressional District.

After serving 25 years in the New York state Assembly with a legislative office in state’s Capitol, he’ll be establishing a new central office about 360 miles away in the nation’s capital for the upcoming 111th Congress.

The road to Washington now entails planning for his oath of office, developing space needs and offices in the district, putting a team of staffers together, approaching congressional leaders about committee assignments, paperwork and training seminars, among other things, Tonko said Monday.

A fixture at community events and a voice often heard during dialogue about energy policy, Tonko on Monday said he knows he’ll be establishing an office in Room 128 at the Cannon House Office Building, just south of the U.S. Capitol, which he toured recently.

The rest of the work is under way, and following a flurry of activities leading to his taking his seat in the House of Representatives, Tonko said he expects to get involved in legislation even before President-elect Barack Obama takes his oath of office.

“A lot gets squeezed into a matter of weeks but we knew that it would be an aggressive role, one that is built on a high degree of energy needs, and we’re ready for it,” Tonko said.

Tonko said he’s got just over a month to prepare for a Jan. 6 swearing in, and he said he expects a lot of work to begin even before the president-elect’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

Starting today, Tonko said he’ll be attending the New Members of Congress Conference at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Forty new members of Congress are attending the conference, hosted every two years by the university’s Institute of Politics.

The weeklong event provides new House of Representatives members with seminars on major public policy issues, according to the Web site of the Harvard University Institute of Politics.

The conference offers seminars on public policy issues including foreign policy, education, energy, national security and the federal budget conducted by experts, senior congressional officials and the national media, according to the Web site.

White House and Congressional Relations, Congress and the Media, and Ethics and Appropriations are among general topics included in the conference, which is not open to the public or the press, according to the Web site.

It’s unclear at this stage what committee assignments Tonko might receive. He said he can only position himself for assignments he believes will best serve his district, represented for the past 20 years by Democrat Michael McNulty of Green Island, who is retiring at the end of the year.

“What I’m trying to do is communicate effectively as to my strengths and the needs of the district and I think if we can address it in that manner, then the effectiveness of these assignments will be maximized for the district,” Tonko said.

taking on STAFF

Tonko said he thinks he’ll be able to take on a staff of about 18 people.

He said he’s in the process of organizing an approach to his staffing.

“I think a mix of people who may know the Hill and know issues and know legislation, along with fresh faces, I think provides a good synergy that responds, in fuller measure, to the needs of the district,” Tonko said.

There are central office staffers in Washington who provide advice and assistance on how to get to work, Tonko said.

The district itself is about five times bigger in size than New York’s 105th state Assembly District, which Tonko represented for more than two decades.

The 105th encompasses all of Montgomery County and parts of Schenectady County.

The 21st Congressional District is spread across seven counties: all of Montgomery, Schoharie, Albany and Schenectady counties and small parts of Fulton, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties.

“It’s probably some five times larger than the Assembly seat. I’ve made no decisions yet, but I’m working through it with different individuals who know the district, who have worked in various locations and with a number of issues and again I’m trying to be very smart about it and sensitive how we use the dollars here, understanding that it’s public money,” Tonko said.

McNulty had district offices in Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Amsterdam and Johnstown in addition to his office in Washington. Tonko said he’s not yet decided where to place his district offices.

Members of Congress are given a general budget in accordance with the district itself, Tonko said. It’s unknown yet exactly what that is for the 21st District.

Tonko said he’s unsure what accommodations are made in terms of transportation and he’s expecting to be using his personal vehicle for travel.

“I think it’s going to take a while to get the feel for just what your needs are,” Tonko said.


The speed with which President-elect Barack Obama intends to start making policy will likely force even new members of Congress to start working immediately, and Tonko said he expects to be reviewing legislation prior to Obama’s swearing in.

Tonko said he recognizes a “sense of urgency and the overwhelming challenges that are facing us with bringing back the economy.”

There are already “wheels turning” to look at various options for assisting in economic recovery, Tonko said, and as a new member of Congress, he said he intends to work toward connecting these options with the needs of the 21st Congressional District.

“There’s a lot of transition going on, that seems to be the theme of the day,” Tonko said.

“We’re working through it and I’m convinced that we’ll be able to do it all in a timely fashion,” Tonko said.

Tonko admits his time will be tighter with responsibilities both in Washington and New York, but he expects to still make it to some of the community dinners and other local events he’s been a fixture at throughout his political career.

“There’s no denying that this will be somewhat different in that you’re doing these roles in two distinct different areas, the 21st District and in Washington. That will be a new order. But being back in the district is not only valuable, it’s essential. It will be a lot of back and forth operating,” Tonko said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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