Capital Region

Tonko, Joy imagine dramatically different visions in race for 20th Congressional District

Liz Lemery Joy, left, and Paul Tonko. Credits: Provided (left) Erica Miller/Staff (right)

Liz Lemery Joy, left, and Paul Tonko. Credits: Provided (left) Erica Miller/Staff (right)

ALBANY — He sees green, she sees blue.

If re-elected, Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said, his leading priorities are moving a COVID-19 relief package to the finish line and furthering legislation to combat climate change.

Tonko faces a challenge from Republican Liz Joy, an author, real estate agent and conservative activist who has touted pro-police bonafides and embraced the Blue Lives Matter movement.

The political newcomer has criticized Tonko as a “career politician and radical leftist” and has run a campaign that has tacked sharply to the right, adopting pro-law enforcement and pro-life agendas while warmly embracing President Donald Trump.

Joy declined an interview with the Daily Gazette — “The Gazette has been awful to deal with and is a completely biased paper,” Joy said on Thursday — but the candidate has kept an aggressive campaign schedule.

The candidate’s social media channels are dotted with posts featuring Joy door-to-door campaigning, attending rallies, meeting with first responders and old-fashioned door-knocking.

And she has leaned heavily into state issues, hammering the Cuomo administration’s response to the pandemic, including the high death toll at nursing homes.

Democrats have an edge in the 20th Congressional District, outnumbering Republicans by roughly 82,000 active voters as of February, according to the state Board of Elections.

And Tonko has outraised Joy, who lives in Glenville, by roughly 4 to 1, raising $1.4 million to roughly $338,000 for Joy, according to Federal Elections Commissions filings on Sept. 30.

Yet the haul is a hardy one for Joy, and GOP opponents to Tonko have traditionally struggled with fundraising.

Tonko, who is seeking a seventh term, has handily won re-election, besting his GOP challenger by 33 percentage points in 2018 and 36 percentage points in 2016, when Trump won the White House.

Voters are casting their ballots as the country struggles to control the coronavirus and heads into winter in which experts are warning of a spike.

Tonko called it “regrettable” that the Heroes Act, a $3 trillion relief package, passed the House in May and is hung up in the Senate.

Prolonged inaction may lead to permanent economic damage, he said.

Tonko blasted the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic as a “weak, flimsy political response rather than substantive.”

“The lack of detail and lack of embrace of science by the administration has rippled into difficult statistics that has morphed into an economic downturn,” Tonko said.

In a Tuesday Facebook post, Joy said she would “aggressively push for an open economy for our small businesses.”

Joy criticized the Heroes Act in a virtual debate with Tonko two weeks ago, noting its cost and that it contains measures for national bail reform, which has proven to be controversial in New York state this year with the elimination of cash bail for misdemeanors and many felonies, including some violent ones.

Critics, including Joy, have contended the legislation has led to criminals being rearrested and released, only to commit more crimes.

“It’s dangerous to us and it’s already happened here in New York state,” Joy said.

Following criticism, the Democratic-led state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo reached a deal that restored a level of judicial discretion.

Tonko later criticized opposition to the relief package over smaller elements.

“They take minor parts of the bill as reasons not to support it,” Tonko said. “We’ve done everything we could do to outline how the dollars are spent.”

Tonko said he has a proven track record of success in Congress.

He said he was particularly proud of a bill he co-sponsored that would create the first set of national regulations for the thoroughbred horse-racing industry, which passed the House by a voice vote last month.

And he’s also pushed for limousine safety legislation following the 2018 crash that killed 20 people in Schoharie, and will help further climate change legislation from his perch on the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change.

“We’ve had 28 bills that I’ve introduced; 25 have been bipartisan, and 17 passed the House,” Tonko said. “I would ask anyone to point to another member of Congress with that sort of success rate.”

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