Paul Tonko

Paul D. Tonko
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 20th district
Assumed office
January 3, 2013
21st congressional district (2009–2013)
Preceded by Michael R. McNulty
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the 105th district
In office
April 1983  June 2007
Preceded by Gail S. Shaffer
Personal details
Born (1949-06-18) June 18, 1949
Amsterdam, New York
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Single
Residence Amsterdam, New York
Alma mater Clarkson University
Profession Engineer
Religion Roman Catholic
Website Congressional Campaign Website

Paul David Tonko (born June 18, 1949) is the U.S. Representative from 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. Tonko 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.[1] He soon after declared his candidacy for Congress and was first elected in 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. He is primarily of Polish descent.[2]

Tonko became active in politics. He was elected as a member, and subsequently Chair, of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors. He also worked for a brief time as an engineer for the New York State Department of Public Service.

New York Assembly (1983-2007)

Tonko was elected to represent the 105th District, which comprised Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Princetown, Mohawk, Glen and part of Schenectady.[3] In January 1983, Assemblywoman Gail S. Shaffer resigned her seat to take office as Secretary of State of New York. On April 12, 1983, Tonko was elected to fill the vacancy.[4] He was re-elected thirteen times, serving in the Assembly until 2007.

While in the Assembly, Tonko served as the Chairman of the Committee on Energy, a position he held from 1992 until retirement. 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.[5]

Tonko was a major advocate of "Timothy's Law" to require health insurers to cover mental illness.[6]

Tonko was a chief sponsor of the Northeast Dairy Compact,[7] and the Chairman of the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources,[8] He was appointed by Speaker Sheldon Silver to serve as Commissioner for the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission.

Tonko resigned his seat on June 29, 2007, to become President and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

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.

U.S. House of Representatives (2008-present)



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.[9] 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.[10][11] He ran against Republican James Buhrmaster, a Schenectady County legislator, in the general election.[11]

Democrats outnumber Republicans in registration in the district by a count of 174,054 to 119,493, with 101,219 not enrolled in any party and a total of 428,655 Voters Registered as of March 1, 2008. It was generally believed that Tonko had assured himself of a seat in Congress with his victory in the primary.

On November 4, 2008, Tonko won in a landslide, with over 60% of the total vote.[12] "Tonko's name recognition ... accomplishment in the Legislature, such as the passage of mental health parity legislation, and his record" contributed to his win.[12] 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.[12]


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.[13] 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.[14][15] 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.[15] 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.[15] 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.[16]

Tonko won the general election on November 2, 2010, by a vote of 124,889 to 85,752.[17]


Tonko was 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.”[18] Tonko won re-election with about 62% of the vote.


Tonko was challenged by Jim Fischer in the November 2014 election. He won his fourth term with 59% of the vote.[19]


Tonko was challenged by Francis Joe Vitollo in the November 2016 election. He won his fifth term with 68% of the vote.


Tonko was one of the 19 most liberal House members, according to the National Journal, for 2011.[20]

When he entered Congress, Tonko said he wanted to focus on the issue he said he knows best – energy policy.[21] 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.[22]

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,[23] Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,[24] American Clean Energy and Security Act,[25] and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.[26] He voted against the Republicans' budget.[27]

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”.[28] 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.[29]

Tonko has also worked to raise awareness about the region's waterways, chiefly the Hudson and Mohawk rivers, and the effects of recent flooding following Hurricane Irene. Seeking a comprehensive flood mitigation and economic development strategy, Tonko introduced the Hudson-Mohawk Basin Act in 2012.[30]

He was actively involved in floor debates against the United States federal government shutdown of 2013.

Tonko became a prominent opponent of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in 2015, citing American trade deficits and the use of child labor by at least four countries who had already signed the pact as among his reasons for opposing the deal.[31]

Committee assignments

Caucus memberships

See also


  1. "Tonko resigns from NYSERDA". Albany Business Review. 28 April 2008. Retrieved 19 June 2014.
  2. New York Red Book (2007–08 ed.). Albany, N.Y.: New York Legal Publishing Corp. p. 965. ISSN 0196-4623.
  3. STAVISKY WINS RACE FOR STATE SENATE; ...Paul Tonko, of Amsterdam, a Democrat, was the winner... in the New York Times on April 13, 1983
  4. Eaton, Leslie (December 6, 1998). "New Yorkers Rush to Invest In College Plan". New York Times. New York, New York. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
  5. "Senate Passes "Timothy's Law" to Provide Mental Health Parity" (Press release). The Senate Republican Majority. September 15, 2006. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
  6. Lamendola, Michael (November 5, 2008). "Tonko wins to succeed McNulty". The Daily Gazette. Schenectady, New York. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
  7. "Tonko speaking at SUNY Cobleskill". The Daily Star. Oneonta, New York. May 18, 2007. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
  8. New York State Board of Elections website list of candidates. Retrieved September 11, 2008.
  9. Our Campaigns - NY District 21 - D Primary Race - Sep 09, 2008
  10. 1 2 Lauren Stanforth, "It's Tonko in 21st: Democrat will face Buhrmaster," September 10, 2008, found at Times Union website
  11. 1 2 3 Standforth, Lauren, and Carol Demare, "Tonko cruises to win in 21st Congressional District: Democrat goes to D.C. with handy win over Buhrmaster", November 5, 2008, found at Election coverage. Retrieved November 5, 2008.
  12. Race ranking and details from CQ Politics. Accessed December 20, 2010.
  13. Campaign contributions from Accessed December 20, 2010.
  14. 1 2 3 Race profile at The New York Times. Accessed December 20, 2010.
  15. Editorial, "Paul Tonko for Congress," Albany Times Union , October 27, 2010. Found at Times Accessed December 20, 2010.
  16. New York State Board of elections official returns for November 2, 2010. Accessed December 20, 2010.
  17. "Paul Tonko gains a challenger". Times Union. 6 March 2012.
  19. "Most Liberal House Members -- PICTURES". National Journal. February 23, 2012. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  20. "Rep. Paul Tonko (D)". The National Journal.
  25. "GOP 2012 Budget Plan". The Washington Post.
  26. Tonko, Paul (January 27, 2011). "State of the Union Response". The Huffington Post.
  27. "Rep. Paul Tonko". The Huffington Post.
  28. LeBrun, Fred. "Tonko bill casts wide river net".
New York Assembly
Preceded by
Gail S. Shaffer
New York State Assembly
105th District

Succeeded by
George A. Amedore Jr.
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Michael R. McNulty
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 21st congressional district

Succeeded by
Bill Owens
Preceded by
Chris Gibson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 20th congressional district

United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Glenn Thompson
United States Representatives by seniority
Succeeded by
Michael Quigley

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