The voters of the 20th Congressional District are sending Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko of Amsterdam back to Washington, D.C., for another two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Tonko defeated Republican challenger Joe Vittolo in convincing fashion Tuesday night. With all districts reporting as of Wednesday morning, Tonko had secured 63.42 percent of the vote, well ahead of Vittolo at 33.57 percent. Tonko was a big winner inside Schenectady County, finishing with 61.26 percent of the vote.
"The voters have cast their votes, and now we need to be part of the healing process," Tonko told The Gazette Tuesday night. "There are so many issues of an urgent nature. We have to build our infrastructure, we have to reduce carbon pollution, and we have to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. They all have to be a high priority, as does making sure people have access to affordable and quality health care."
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Tonko felt his ability to connect with people helped him secure Tuesday's win.
"I really want to thank the voters for returning me to office," he said. "I think I continued to reach out to people during the campaign and made their concerns my top priority. The engineer in me loves to solve problems, and I think the voters like my analytical approach. I think I have a chemistry with the voters and I appreciate that."
- Tonko (D): 163,472 - 63.42%
- Vitollo (R): 83,950 - 32.57%
- Blank: 10,137 - 3.93%
- 632 of 632 districts reporting
- New York State Board of Elections
Tonko's victory Tuesday night sends him to Washington for a sixth term.
Vittolo watched the election results come in Tuesday night from Republican headquarters at 1770 Central Ave. in Colonie.
"The bottom line is that Paul Tonko had a lot of money and I didn't have a lot of money," said a disappointed Vittolo. "No matter what the final results, if he wins, the district is going to lose. There's $40 billion waiting to come back to the state and he hasn't brought anything back to this district, or maybe just a very little. He's just all about his own popularity. He hasn't helped anyone around here. Maybe one or two people, but he's got the media sucking up to him and they're doing everything they can to keep the status quo."
Vittolo also had some harsh words for the press.
"I have yet to find any journalist in this district with any honesty," he said. "The one debate we had, the questions were geared toward his policies and the other questions were attacks on me. Let's face, it the media is slanted toward the liberals. The internet is going to wipe out newspapers. They're holding on to a sinking ship."
An Amsterdam native and still a Montgomery County resident,Tonko served in the state Assembly from 1983 to 2007 before running for Congress in 2008 to replace incumbent Michael McNulty in what was then the 21st District. McNulty, a Green Island Democrat, was retiring after 10 terms in Congress.
Tonko defeated Glenville Republican James D. Buhrmaster for the congressional seat in 2008, winning 55 percent of the vote to Buhrmaster's 31 percent.
In 2010, Tonko posted another easy victory, defeating Theodore J. Danz Jr., 57 percent to 39 percent. After some redistricting following the 2010 election, Tonko breezed past Robert Diederich, 64-30 percent, in what is now the 20th District.
He won easily over Republican challenger James Fischer in 2014, 59-37 percent, and was another big winner in 2016, besting Vitollo in his first run, 64-30 percent.
Tonko enjoys a large advantage in enrollment numbers, with 196,570 registered Democrats in the 20th District. Independents actually have an enrollment edge over registered Republicans, 118,987 to 115,313. A graduate of Clarkson University, Tonko is one of just seven engineers in the U.S. House.
Vitollo, 62, is a Glenmont resident and East Islip (Long Island) native. He is an Air Force veteran who also worked in construction as a registered nurse.
Tonko's victory reflects a long history of success for incumbent congressmen serving Schenectady County and the surrounding area. McNulty's 10-term run was preceded by Democrat Samuel Stratton's 15 terms. Before Stratton, Bernard W. Kearney, a Republican, was Schenectady's representative, winning eight elections, and before him another Republican, Schenectady dentist Frank Crowther, won 12 consecutive elections from 1918 to 1942.