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Biography Paul Tonko

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Paul Tonko Paul Tonko
Paul Tonko
U.S. Representative - member of the Democratic Party.


Paul Tonko Biography

ENG: Paul David Tonko (born June 18, 1949) is the U.S. Representative for New York's 20th congressional district, a post he has held since 2009. He is a member of the Democratic Party. The district, numbered as the 21st for his first two terms, is located in the heart of the Capital District and includes Albany, Schenectady and Troy. He previously represented the 105th District in the New York Assembly from 1983 to 2007.

Tonko was president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, from 2007 until his resignation on April 25, 2008.


Early life, education, and early career

Tonko is a lifelong resident of Amsterdam, New York, near Schenectady. He holds a degree in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering from Clarkson University.

Tonko was a member, and subsequently Chair, of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors. He also worked at that time as an engineer in private business.


New York Assembly (1983-2007)

He represented the 105th District, which comprises Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Princetown, Mohawk, Glen and part of Schenectady.



Incumbent Democratic Assemblywoman Gail Shaffer resigned from her seat to become the New York Secretary of State. Tonko ran for the seat in an April 1983 special election against Republican Eugene Hallock, and won with 54% of the vote. He won re-election 15 more times. He never won re-election with less than 62% of the vote.



Tonko was also the major advocate of "Timothy's Law" to require health insurers to cover mental illness.

Assemblyman Tonko was a chief sponsor of the Northeast Dairy Compact, the Chairman of the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources, and was appointed by Speaker Sheldon Silver to serve as Commissioner for the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission.

Tonko vacated his seat on June 29, 2007, after Gov. Eliot Spitzer tapped Tonko as president of NYSERDA, an authority or public benefit corporation created in 1975 by the New York State Legislature.


Committee assignments

While in the Assembly, Tonko served as the Chairman of the Energy Committee, a position he held since 1992. Tonko was also a member of standing committees on Agriculture, Transportation and Education, where he was the original sponsor and a chief proponent of the College Tuition Savings Program that was signed into law in 1997.


CEO of NYSERDA (2007-2008)

Tonko was President and CEO of NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) from 2007 to 2008, when he resigned to run for U.S. Representative. Due to his experience as an engineer, as chair of the Assembly Energy Committee, and as CEO of NYSERDA, he is considered an expert in energy law, especially New York energy law. In March 2011, the Albany Times Union published a op-ed essay by Tonko about clean energy.


U.S. House of Representatives (2008-Present) - Elections - 2008

Tonko entered the 2008 Democratic Primary for New York State's 21st Congressional District after 10-term incumbent Michael McNulty (with whom he served in the State Assembly from 1983 to 1989) decided to retire. Despite having less money than both his main rivals, Tonko won the primary on September 9, 2008 with a plurality of 40% of the vote. He ran against Republican James Buhrmaster, a Schenectady County legislator, in the general election.

The 21st is the most Democratic district in the state outside of the New York City area and Western New York. Democrats have a large advantage in registration. As such, it was generally believed Tonko had assured himself of a seat in Congress with his victory in the primary.

His Republican opponent, Jim Buhrmaster, launched an ad campaign calling Tonko "Taxin' Tonko," a reference to the over 400 votes Tonko made as a member of the Assembly to raise taxes.

On November 4, 2008, he won in a landslide, with over 60% of the total vote. "Tonko's name recognition ... accomplishment in the Legislature, such as the passage of mental health parity legislation, and his record" contributed to his win. According to preliminary figures the day after the election, he beat Burhmaster by 105,313 to 57,086, with Philip Steck, a minor party candidate, receiving 5,025 votes.



In 2010, Tonko ran for re-election on the Democratic, Working Families and Independence Party lines. He was challenged by Republican and Conservative Party nominee Ted Danz, a former United States Navy Reservist and small business owner in the cooling and heating business. Congressional Quarterly rated the race as "Safe" for the incumbent party to keep the seat. Tonko raised almost $980,000, and spent almost $780,000 on his campaign; Danz raised about $44,000 and spent about $42,000 for his own campaign. The seat was rated by The New York Times as being "Solid Democratic" with "99.8 %" to "100 % chance" that Tonko would win the seat. The major issues in the 2010 race were Tonko's "yes" votes for the Health Care Bill, the Stimulus Package (ARRA), and the Energy Bill. The Albany Times Union endorsed Tonko in that race, citing "a way of thinking and speaking like the engineer that he once was" and his support of the economic stimulus bill and health care bills.

Tonko won the general election on November 2, 2010, by a vote of 124,889 to 85,752.



Tonko is being challenged by Republican Bob Dieterich, senior vice president at First National Bank of Scotia. Former Tonko opponent Jim Buhrmaster cited Albany, particularly the city, as the biggest challenge for a Republican contender. He added, however: “People are voting more independently, and they’re not registering Republican or Democratic.”



Tonko was one of the 19 most liberal house members, according to the National Journal, for 2011.

When he entered Congress, Tonko said he wanted to focus on the issue he said he knows best – energy policy. He sponsored a bill to get $800 million research program in wind energy technologies, which would benefit GE in his district.He also wanted to create a research program to improve the efficiency of gas turbines used in power generation systems that convert heat into energy. In 2010, Tonko got a provision in a House-passed bill, following the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, to prevent future spills and help small businesses in spill research. In 2011, he sponsored an amendment seeking to protect the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate carbon emissions.

He is strongly against expanding the Bush-era tax cuts for high-income earners. Among other key votes, he voted for the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, American Clean Energy and Security Act, and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. He voted against the Republicans' budget.

Tonko has contributed blog posts to the Huffington Post, with many sharply criticizing the Republican Party, including their "budget hypocrisy" and the threat they pose to Social Security. He praised the 2011 State of the Union address, saying: “the President set out a bold agenda for our nation, an agenda that will focus on growing our economy, growing jobs, and growing opportunity for the middle class”. On numerous occasions, he has also warned of the threat that would allegedly be posed by the healthcare repeal to small businesses, to young people, and to seniors.

In August 2010 it was reported that Tonko was one of eight New York State members of Congress who were collecting state pensions. Dick Dadey of the good-government group Citizens Union criticized these actions, saying “[t]hey are milking the system at taxpayer expense." Tonko receives the largest pension of the eight – $64,641 a year.




January 13, 2013

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