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Paul Tonko

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Paul Tonko
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from New York
Assumed office
January 3, 2009
Preceded byMichael McNulty
Constituency21st district (2009–2013)
20th district (2013–present)
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the 105th district
In office
April 1983 – June 2007
Preceded byGail S. Shaffer
Succeeded byGeorge A. Amedore Jr.
Personal details
Born (1949-06-18) June 18, 1949 (age 74)
Amsterdam, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationClarkson University (BS)
WebsiteHouse website

Paul David Tonko (/ˈtɒŋk/ TONK-oh; born June 18, 1949) is an American politician serving as the U.S. representative for New York's 20th congressional district since 2013. He represented the 21st congressional district from 2009 to 2013. A member of the Democratic Party, Tonko has been called a staunch progressive.[1] After the 2020 redistricting cycle and effective for the 118th Congress, the 20th district will include all of Albany County, Saratoga County and Schenectady County, as well as part of Rensselaer County.

From 1983 to 2007, Tonko represented the 105th district in the New York State Assembly. He was appointed to serve as president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority from 2007 until his resignation in April 2008. Soon afterward, he declared his candidacy for Congress, and was elected in November 2008.

Tonko is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing, and Critical Materials in the 118th Congress. Since 2013, he has been the highest-ranking Democrat on the panel, which authorizes, oversees and investigates the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Early life, education and early career[edit]

Tonko is a lifelong resident of Amsterdam, New York, near Schenectady, and is of primarily Polish descent.[2] He graduated from Amsterdam's Wilbur H. Lynch High School in 1967, and received a degree in mechanical and industrial engineering from Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York in 1971.[3]

An engineer for the New York Public Service Commission, Tonko became active in local politics in the early 1970s and successfully ran for the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors. He was a member of the board from 1976 to 1983,[4] and the board's chairman from 1981 to 1983.[5] Tonko was the youngest person in county history to be elected to the board of supervisors.[6]

New York State Assembly (1983–2007)[edit]

In January 1983, Assemblywoman Gail S. Shaffer resigned her 105th district seat to take office as Secretary of State of New York. The Democratic Party, as well as the Liberal Party, nominated Tonko to contest an April 12 special election for the seat against former Schoharie County Clerk Eugene Hallock, the Republican and Conservative nominee. Tonko defeated Hallock in a close race.[7][8] Tonko was reelected 13 times, serving in the Assembly until 2007.[9]

While in the Assembly, Tonko served as chair of the Energy Committee from 1992 until his departure from the Assembly in 2007.[10] He 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.[11]

Tonko sponsored Timothy's Law,[12] a 2006 law that requires health insurers to cover mental health treatment.[13] He also sponsored the Northeast Dairy Compact,[14] and chaired the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources,[15]

Tonko resigned his Assembly seat in June 2007 to become President and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.[4]

U.S. House of Representatives (2009–present)[edit]



On April 25, 2008, Tonko stepped down from his position at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority after ten-term Democratic Congressman Michael McNulty announced his upcoming retirement from Congress.[16] He subsequently entered the race to succeed McNulty in the 21st district.[17] Tonko won the Democratic primary on September 9, defeating four other candidates.[18]

In the November 4 general election, Tonko defeated Republican Schenectady County Legislator James Buhrmaster by a decisive margin.[19] According to the Times Union, "Tonko's name recognition ... accomplishment in the Legislature, such as the passage of mental health parity legislation, and his record" contributed to his win.[20] He had effectively clinched a seat in Congress in the primary; the 21st had long been the only safe Democratic district in the state outside the New York City, Buffalo and Rochester areas.


Tonko ran for reelection 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. Tonko raised almost $980,000, and spent almost $780,000 on his campaign; Danz raised about $44,000 and spent about $42,000 on his campaign.[21][22] The New York Times rated the seat "Solid Democratic", with a "99.8%" to "100% chance" that Tonko would win.[22] The major issues in the 2010 race were Tonko's votes for Obamacare, the Stimulus Package (ARRA), and the Energy Bill.[22] The Albany Times Union endorsed Tonko, 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.[23] Tonko won the November 2 general election, 124,889 votes to 85,752.[24]

Redistricting saw Tonko's district renumbered the 20th district.[25] It lost much of its more rural territory to the west. To make up for the loss in population, it was pushed further into Saratoga County. The new 20th was no less Democratic than the old 21st, and Tonko defeated Bob Dieterich in 2012,[26] Jim Fischer in 2014,[27] and Joe Vitollo in 2016[28] and 2018.[29] He defeated Liz Joy in 2020 and 2022.[30]

Results by Election Cycle[31]
Year General Election Opponent Opponent % Tonko %
2008 James Buhrmaster 31% 54.9%[32]
2010 Ted Danz 39.1% 56.9%[33]
2012 Robert Dieterich 29.5% 64%[34]
2014 Jim Fischer 37.3% 59%[35]
2016 Joe Vitollo 32.1% 67.9%[36]
2018 Joe Vitollo 33.5% 66.5%[37]
2020 Liz Joy 38.8% 61.2%[38]
2022 Liz Joy 44.4% 54.2%[39]


Tonko was one of the 19 most liberal House members, according to the National Journal, for 2011.[40] He voted with President Joe Biden's stated position 100% of the time in the 117th Congress, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis.


When he entered Congress, Tonko said he wanted to focus on the issue he said he knows best—energy policy.[42] He sponsored a bill to create an $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.[43]

Tonko 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".[44] He has also often warned of the threat that Obamacare's repeal would pose to small businesses, young people, and seniors.[45]

Tonko has worked to raise awareness about the region's waterways, chiefly the Hudson and Mohawk rivers, and the effects of flooding after Hurricane Irene. Seeking a comprehensive flood mitigation and economic development strategy, Tonko introduced the Hudson-Mohawk Basin Act in 2012.[46]

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 that had already signed the pact as among his reasons for opposing the deal.[47]

In 2017, Tonko was one of three Catholic politicians whom Bishop Edward Bernard Scharfenberger of Albany publicly rebuked for participating in a rally supporting Planned Parenthood.[48]

In January 2019, Tonko—a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee—was named chair of that committee's Subcommittee on the Environment and Climate Change.[49]

On October 1, 2020, Tonko co-signed a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that condemned Azerbaijan’s offensive operations against the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, denounced Turkey’s role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and criticized "false equivalence between Armenia and Azerbaijan, even as the latter threatens war and refuses to agree to monitoring along the line of contact."[50]

In 2022, Tonko was instrumental in passing provisions contained in the CHIPS and Science Act (PL 117-167) into law.[51]


In 2023, Tonko was among 56 Democrats to vote in favor of H. Con. Res. 21, which directed President Joe Biden to remove U.S. troops from Syria within 180 days.[52][53]

Committee assignments[edit]

Caucus memberships[edit]

Tonko is a member of more than 65 House caucuses. Below is a small sample of his memberships:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tonko has major advantage in congressional race – The Daily Gazette". dailygazette.com. November 4, 2018.
  2. ^ "Congressman Paul Tonko : Press Releases : CONGRESSMAN PAUL TONKO SPEAKS ON POLISH TRAGEDY". Archived from the original on October 31, 2014. Retrieved October 31, 2014.
  3. ^ "GASD honors 2017 Hall of Fame inductees". Recorder News. September 22, 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Taking the reins: Tonko stepping into national role on climate change". Recorder News. April 26, 2019.
  5. ^ US Congress Joint Committee on Printing (2013). Official Congressional Directory: 113th Congress. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. p. 187. ISBN 978-0-16-091922-0.
  6. ^ Sanzone, Danielle. "2 Republicans, 5 Democrats to vie in 21st District primary". The Saratogian.
  7. ^ Fowler, Glenn (April 13, 1983). "State Senator to be Chosen in Queens". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Stavisky Wins Race for State Senate; ...Paul Tonko, of Amsterdam, a Democrat, was the winner... in The New York Times on April 13, 1983
  9. ^ Barnes, Steve (November 14, 2017). "Community-minded Tonko gets around". Times Union.
  10. ^ "Meet The New Chair, House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Environment & Climate Change". Daily Kos.
  11. ^ Eaton, Leslie (December 6, 1998). "New Yorkers Rush to Invest In College Plan". The New York Times. New York, New York. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
  12. ^ "Buhrmaster, Tonko bring different approaches to challenges – The Daily Gazette". dailygazette.com. October 26, 2008.
  13. ^ WRGB (January 23, 2017). "AG Schneiderman announces Cigna settlement". WSTM.
  14. ^ Lamendola, Michael (November 5, 2008). "Tonko wins to succeed McNulty". The Daily Gazette. Schenectady, New York. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
  15. ^ "Tonko speaking at SUNY Cobleskill". The Daily Star. Oneonta, New York. May 18, 2007. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
  16. ^ "Tonko resigns from NYSERDA". Albany Business Review. April 28, 2008.
  17. ^ "NY-21: Race Heats Up with Tonko Announcement, Steck Endorsement". Daily Kos.
  18. ^ "Buhrmaster, Tonko win Congressional primary". Albany Business Review. September 10, 2008.
  19. ^ "Tonko wins to succeed McNulty – The Daily Gazette". dailygazette.com. November 5, 2008.
  20. ^ 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 [permanent dead link]. Retrieved November 5, 2008.
  21. ^ Campaign contributions from OpenSecrets. Accessed December 20, 2010.
  22. ^ a b c Race profile at The New York Times. Accessed December 20, 2010.
  23. ^ Editorial, "Paul Tonko for Congress," Albany Times Union, October 27, 2010. Found at Times Union.com. Accessed December 20, 2010.
  24. ^ New York State Board of elections official returns for November 2, 2010 Archived August 1, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed December 20, 2010.
  25. ^ "Tonko secures sixth term in Congress – The Daily Gazette". dailygazette.com. November 7, 2018.
  26. ^ Morris, Caitlin (November 6, 2012). "Rep. Paul Tonko defeats challenger Bob Dieterich". The Saratogian.
  27. ^ "Tonko defeats Fischer in 20th Congressional District – The Daily Gazette". dailygazette.com.
  28. ^ "U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko defeats challenger Joe Vitollo". Times Union. November 9, 2016.
  29. ^ "Tonko defeats Vitollo for sixth term in Congress". Recorder News. November 6, 2018.
  30. ^ "Rep. Paul Tonko re-elected, defeats Liz Joy in rematch race for NY-20". spectrumlocalnews.com. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  31. ^ "Home Page - New York State Board of Elections". www.elections.ny.gov. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  32. ^ "2008 Election Results | New York State Board of Elections". www.elections.ny.gov. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  33. ^ "2010 Election Results | New York State Board of Elections". www.elections.ny.gov. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  34. ^ "2012 Election Results | New York State Board of Elections". www.elections.ny.gov. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  35. ^ "2014 Election Results | New York State Board of Elections". www.elections.ny.gov. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  36. ^ "2016 Election Results | New York State Board of Elections". www.elections.ny.gov. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  37. ^ "2018 Election Results | New York State Board of Elections". www.elections.ny.gov. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  38. ^ "2020 Election Results | New York State Board of Elections". www.elections.ny.gov. Retrieved December 4, 2020.
  39. ^ "2022 Election Results | New York State Board of Elections". www.elections.ny.gov. Retrieved November 12, 2022.
  40. ^ "Most Liberal House Members – PICTURES". National Journal. February 23, 2012. Archived from the original on March 14, 2012. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  41. ^ Bycoffe, Aaron; Wiederkehr, Anna (April 22, 2021). "Does Your Member Of Congress Vote With Or Against Biden?". FiveThirtyEight. Retrieved November 15, 2023.
  42. ^ "Rep. Paul Tonko (D)". The National Journal. Archived from the original on January 11, 2012.
  43. ^ "Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY, 21st District) NationalJournal.com". Archive.is. Archived from the original on September 4, 2012. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  44. ^ Tonko, Paul (January 27, 2011). "State of the Union Response". The Huffington Post.
  45. ^ "Rep. Paul Tonko". The Huffington Post.
  46. ^ LeBrun, Fred. "Tonko bill casts wide river net". timesunion.com.
  47. ^ "Trade official boosts Trans Pacific Partnership, but U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, labor have doubts". April 8, 2015. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  48. ^ Churchill, Chris (February 16, 2017). "Churchill: Bishop scolds Catholic politicians who stood with Planned Parenthood". Times Union. Albany, NY.
  49. ^ Willard, Lucas (January 15, 2019). "Tonko Named Chair Of Subcommittee On Climate Change". www.wamc.org.
  50. ^ "Senate and House Leaders to Secretary of State Pompeo: Cut Military Aid to Azerbaijan; Sanction Turkey for Ongoing Attacks Against Armenia and Artsakh". The Armenian Weekly. October 2, 2020.
  51. ^ Rulison, Larry (June 21, 2022). "Tonko and business executives push passage of CHIPS Act". Times Union. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  52. ^ "H.Con.Res. 21: Directing the President, pursuant to section 5(c) of … -- House Vote #136 -- Mar 8, 2023". March 8, 2023.
  53. ^ "House Votes Down Bill Directing Removal of Troops From Syria". Associated Press. March 8, 2023.
  54. ^ "Tonko Joins House Progressive Caucus". Paul Tonko. January 10, 2023. Retrieved January 10, 2023.
  55. ^ "Membership". Congressional Arts Caucus. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  56. ^ "Members". House Baltic Caucus. Retrieved February 21, 2018.

External links[edit]

New York State Assembly
Preceded by Member of the New York Assembly
from the 105th district

Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 21st congressional district

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

U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by United States representatives by seniority
Succeeded by