Tonko has major advantage in congressional race

Tonko a staunch political progressive
Paul Tonko, left, and Joe Vitollo
Paul Tonko, left, and Joe Vitollo

20th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT — The race for the 20th Congressional District is a rematch two years in the making, with incumbent Paul Tonko facing an underfunded challenge from Republican Joe Vitollo.

Vitollo, 62, an Air Force veteran who worked in construction and later as a registered nurse, describes himself as a “constitutional literalist,” who believes in minimizing the federal government’s role in health care and most other aspects of life.

“As an elected official, I will pursue returning the power of government back to the people by proposing a bill for term limits and reducing the prerequisites that go along with serving as a congressman and a senator,” Vitollo said on his website.

Tonko, on the other hand, is an outspoken progressive on issues from health care to the influence of money in politics, and a frequent critic of President Donald Trump.

“Congress should act to increase the minimum wage, enact fair pay and gender equality in the workplace, invest in the kind of research and development that made our economy the largest in the world and focus on helping hard-working families instead of the already wealthy and well-connected,” Tonko said when asked by the state League of Women Voters about his priorities.

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Tonko, 69, is an Amsterdam native who still lives there. He has an engineering degree from Clarkson University and is one of only seven engineers in the House of Representatives. He served many years in the state Assembly and briefly headed the state Energy Research and Development Authority before being elected to Congress in 2009.

Tonko has raised nearly $1.2 million for his campaign over the past two years and still has most of that in the bank, according to Federal Elections Commission filings. Vitollo reports no donations – even local Republicans are opting to put their money elsewhere, given Tonko’s firm hold on the seat and the district’s Democratic leanings.

The 20th Congressional District includes Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Saratoga Springs and Amsterdam. The enrollment includes 196,570 Democrats, 115,313 Republicans, and 118,987 independents.

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