Paul Tonko confirmed Thursday that he is running for Congress in the 21st District to succeed U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty, D-Green Island, who is retiring at the end of the year.
“Yes,” Tonko responded when asked at a Democratic Party event in Saratoga Springs whether he is running. He said he has not yet made a formal announcement of his candidacy because he is “putting my paperwork together.” Tonko resigned last week as head of the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority. He previously served more than 20 years as a state assemblyman representing Montgomery and much of Schenectady counties.
Saratoga County Democratic Chairman Larry Bulman said he sees Tonko as one of the two leading candidates in the race, the other being Tracey Brooks of Albany County. Brooks is an attorney and a former aide to U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.
Assemblyman Bob Reilly, D-Colonie, said he sees three leading candidates: Tonko, Brooks, and Phil Steck, an attorney and Albany County legislator. They are all good candidates, Reilly said, though he is sticking by his endorsement of Steck.
McNulty’s district includes all of Albany, Schenectady, Montgomery and Schoharie counties, and parts of Fulton, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties.
Enrolled Democrats outnumber Republicans there by 174,054 to 119,493. Several other candidates have already declared that they are running for the seat. Most of them, like Tonko and McNulty, are Democrats.
McNulty, like most of the district’s Democrats, is from Albany County. Tonko is from Amsterdam in Montgomery County.
Montgomery County Democratic Chairwoman Bethany Schumann-McGhee said that the committee does not usually endorse in primaries, but might make an exception in this case to back Tonko. Tonko also has substantial support in Schenectady County.
Meanwhile, in Saratoga Springs, the New York State Democratic Committee on Thursday elected four new superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention. All four — state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, former Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields and Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo — are supporters of the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
New York’s elected leaders have lined up in overwhelming numbers behind their home state senator, but nationally Clinton remains about 139 delegates behind Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Schumann-McGhee was sporting two Obama buttons, but stressed that her committee has not taken a position in the race. Speaking personally, she said she was inspired by Obama’s speeches and his life story, noting that she is in an interracial marriage, and he is the product of one.
Bulman, like most New York Democrats, is a Clinton supporter. The Saratoga committee got behind her candidacy last year, he said.
At the Democratic meeting, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, gave a fiery lunchtime speech denouncing President Bush as the worst president in U.S. history, but did not mention the contest for the Democratic nomination. Asked later if Clinton still has a realistic chance of winning, Silver responded: “Absolutely, unequivocally. You’ll see it in the next few primaries.”
Assemblyman Jack McEneny, D-Albany, said he too thinks his candidate, Clinton, can pull it off. But she needs to get Obama’s delegate lead down below 100, McEneny said. Otherwise, he said, the superdelegates may be reluctant to put her over the top. Under Democratic Party rules, the superdelegates are not directly elected by voters. They are mostly senior officials, such as members of Congress, and are not legally bound to any candidate.
U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, head of the Democratic congressional campaign committee for New York, said in a speech that several Republican seats are vulnerable, including that of Rep. John McHugh, whose district includes part of Fulton County.
Some local Democrats, however, were skeptical. Bulman said he thinks the three most vulnerable Republican seats are in central and Western New York, and does not see McHugh’s seat as a likely pickup.
Meanwhile, the suspense in the GOP race is over, and Republicans are looking past their convention to the general election.
J. Christopher Callaghan, a delegate for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, said he is finding strong support for McCain, and not just from Republicans. Callaghan, the former Saratoga County treasurer, said people admire McCain’s courage, character and candor, even if they don’t agree with all his positions. “He’s the adult in the race,” Callaghan said.