The race in New York’s 20th Congressional District offers voters the choice between a longtime politician and a relative newcomer who, in many ways, mirror their respective parties’ presidential nominees.
On the Democratic side, Congressman Paul Tonko has been serving as a representative for decades. The Amsterdam native was elected to the House of Representatives in 2008 and spent more than 20 years as a member of the New York State Assembly prior to that.
His experience and views provide a stark contrast to Republican challenger Francis “Joe” Vitollo, a Coeymans man who has never held political office but said he is concerned about the country his 16 grandchildren are going to inherit.
“I’m concerned about America and about the American dream,” Vitollo told voters at a candidate forum on Oct. 18. Vitollo ran for Albany County executive in 2015 and lost.
Job: Congressman (Engineering background)
The 20th Congressional District covers all of Schenectady and Albany counties, as well as portions of Montgomery, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties.
Vitollo, 60, works as an emergency room nurse and aligns with his party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, on most issues.
Vitollo opposes government regulation of the economy, which he said squeezes small businesses. He’s a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, saying no new laws are needed; existing ones just need to be enforced. He opposes the Affordable Care Act, calling it expensive and ineffective.
On immigration, Vitollo said he believes the country needs to secure its borders to monitor who and what is entering. On his campaign website, Vitollo calls for immigrants to assimilate to American culture, “which includes our standards of behavior and coexistence in a civil society.”
Vitollo has railed against what he calls “the cartel of power” in Washington D.C., saying politicians and the government have gotten away from the values put forth in the U.S. Constitution.
Francis 'Joe' Vitollo
Family: Married with six children
Job: Emergency room nurse
Tonko, on the other side of the ballot, points to his record in Congress but said there is still work to be done. He said he’s proud of the connection he’s made with voters and believes he can continue serving them in Congress.
Tonko, 67, served as the representative for the 20th Congressional District since 2013, when it was redistricted. He has a background in engineering and said he believes that makes him a good fit for the Capital Region, which has become a growing source of technology jobs.
He also focuses on clean energy, serving as a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Before serving in Congress, Tonko was the CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
The Democrat differs from Vitollo on most issues. He supports tightening loopholes to reduce gun violence and participated in a Democratic sit-in in the House of Representatives earlier this year that focused on the “no fly, no buy” rule that would prevent individuals on a no-fly list from buying a gun.
Tonko also supports the Affordable Care Act as a tool that has insured more Americans, but he has said it’s important to improve on the aspects that aren’t effective.
In 2014, Tonko won re-election in the 20th district, earning just over 60 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Jim Fischer.
As of April 2014, the 20th Congressional District had 192,546 registered Democrats and 119,817 Republicans, plus about 115,000 voters enrolled in neither of those parties, according to the state Board of Elections.
Reach Gazette reporter Brett Samuels at 395-3113, [email protected] or @Brett_Samuels27 on Twitter.