Paul Tonko

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Paul Tonko
Paul Tonko, official portrait, 116th Congress.jpg
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from New York
Assumed office
January 3, 2009
Preceded byMichael R. 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 71)
Amsterdam, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationClarkson University (BS)
WebsiteHouse website

Paul David Tonko (/ˈtɒŋk/; born June 18, 1949) is an American politician serving as the U.S. Representative from New York's 20th congressional district. He is a member of the Democratic Party. The district (numbered as the 21st congressional district for his first two terms) is located in New York's Capital District[1] and includes Albany, Schenectady and Troy.[2] 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 in April 2008. Soon afterward, he declared his candidacy for Congress and won election in November 2008. As of January 2019, Tonko serves as chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on the Environment and Climate Change.

Early life, education, and early career[edit]

Tonko is a lifelong resident of Amsterdam, New York, near Schenectady, and is primarily of Polish descent.[3] 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 1971.[4]

After college, Tonko became active in politics and was elected to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors. He was a member of the board from 1976 to 1983,[5] and the board's chairman from 1981 to 1983.[6] Tonko was the youngest person in county history to be elected to the board of supervisors.[7]

New York 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. Tonko was subsequently nominated by the Democratic and Liberal Parties to contest an April 12th special election for the seat against former Schoharie County Clerk Eugene Hallock, the Republican and Conservative nominee. Tonko defeated Hallock in a close race.[8][9] Tonko was re-elected thirteen times, serving in the Assembly until 2007.[10]

While in the Assembly, Tonko served as Chairman of the Assembly Energy Committee from 1992 until his departure from the Assembly in 2007.[11] 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.[12]

Tonko sponsored Timothy's Law,[13] a 2006 law which requires health insurers to provide coverage for mental health treatment.[14] Tonko was also a sponsor of the Northeast Dairy Compact,[15] and the Chairman of the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources,[16]

Tonko resigned his Assembly seat in June 2007 to become President and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.[5]

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 Democratic U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty announced his upcoming retirement from Congress.[17] Tonko later became a candidate for Congress in New York State's 21st congressional district.[18] He won the Democratic congressional primary on September 9, 2008, defeating four other candidates.[19]

In the November 4, 2008 general election, Tonko defeated Republican Schenectady County Legislator James Buhrmaster by a decisive margin.[20] 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.[21]


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. 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.[22][23] 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.[23] 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.[23] 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.[24] Tonko won the general election on November 2, 2010, by a vote of 124,889 to 85,752.[25]

After a redistricting process in which Tonko's district was renumbered as the 20th district,[26] Tonko defeated Bob Dieterich in 2012,[27] Jim Fischer in 2014,[28] and Joe Vitollo in 2016[29] and 2018.[30]

Results by Election Cycle
Year General Election Opponent Opponent % Tonko %
2008 James Buhrmaster 31% 54.9%
2010 Ted Danz 39.1% 56.9%
2012 Robert Dieterich 29.5% 64%
2014 Jim Fischer 37.3% 59%
2016 Joe Vitollo 32.1% 67.9%
2018 Joe Vitollo 33.5% 66.5%
2020 Liz Joy TBD TBD


Tonko was one of the 19 most liberal House members, according to the National Journal, for 2011.[31]

When he entered Congress, Tonko said he wanted to focus on the issue he said he knows best – energy policy.[32] 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.[33]

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".[34] On numerous occasions, he has also warned of the threat that would be posed by the healthcare repeal to small businesses, to young people, and to seniors.[35]

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.[36]

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.[37]

In 2017, Tonko was one of three Catholic politicians who were publicly rebuked by Bishop Edward Bernard Scharfenberger of Albany for participating in a rally supporting Planned Parenthood.[38]

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.[39]

Committee assignments[edit]

Caucus memberships[edit]

Tonko is a member of more than 65 caucuses in his capacity as United States Representative. Below is a small sample of his memberships:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Duncan, Brenda (7 November 2018). "Complete results for every Congressional race in New York State: Dems gain 3 seats".
  2. ^ "Tonko has major advantage in congressional race – The Daily Gazette".
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-10-31. Retrieved 2014-10-31.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "GASD honors 2017 Hall of Fame inductees". Recorder News. September 22, 2017.
  5. ^ a b "Taking the reins: Tonko stepping into national role on climate change". Recorder News. April 26, 2019.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Sanzone, Danielle. "2 Republicans, 5 Democrats to vie in 21st District primary". The Saratogian.
  8. ^ Fowler, Glenn (April 13, 1983). "State Senator to be Chosen in Queens". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Stavisky Wins Race for State Senate; ...Paul Tonko, of Amsterdam, a Democrat, was the winner... in The New York Times on April 13, 1983
  10. ^ Barnes, Steve (14 November 2017). "Community-minded Tonko gets around". Times Union.
  11. ^ "Meet The New Chair, House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Environment & Climate Change". Daily Kos.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ "Buhrmaster, Tonko bring different approaches to challenges – The Daily Gazette".
  14. ^ WRGB (23 January 2017). "AG Schneiderman announces Cigna settlement". WSTM.
  15. ^ Lamendola, Michael (November 5, 2008). "Tonko wins to succeed McNulty". The Daily Gazette. Schenectady, New York. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
  16. ^ "Tonko speaking at SUNY Cobleskill". The Daily Star. Oneonta, New York. May 18, 2007. Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
  17. ^
  18. ^ "NY-21: Race Heats Up with Tonko Announcement, Steck Endorsement". Daily Kos.
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Tonko wins to succeed McNulty – The Daily Gazette".
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Campaign contributions from Accessed December 20, 2010.
  23. ^ a b c Race profile at The New York Times. Accessed December 20, 2010.
  24. ^ Editorial, "Paul Tonko for Congress," Albany Times Union, October 27, 2010. Found at Times Accessed December 20, 2010.
  25. ^ New York State Board of elections official returns for November 2, 2010. Accessed December 20, 2010.
  26. ^ "Tonko secures sixth term in Congress – The Daily Gazette".
  27. ^ Morris, Caitlin. "Rep. Paul Tonko defeats challenger Bob Dieterich". The Saratogian.
  28. ^ "Tonko defeats Fischer in 20th Congressional District – The Daily Gazette".
  29. ^ "U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko defeats challenger Joe Vitollo". Times Union. 9 November 2016.
  30. ^ "Tonko defeats Vitollo for sixth term in Congress". Recorder News. November 6, 2018.
  31. ^ "Most Liberal House Members – PICTURES". National Journal. February 23, 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-03-14. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  32. ^ "Rep. Paul Tonko (D)". The National Journal. Archived from the original on 2012-01-11.
  33. ^ "Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY, 21st District)". Archived from the original on 2012-09-04. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  34. ^ Tonko, Paul (January 27, 2011). "State of the Union Response". The Huffington Post.
  35. ^ "Rep. Paul Tonko". The Huffington Post.
  36. ^ LeBrun, Fred. "Tonko bill casts wide river net".
  37. ^ "Trade official boosts Trans Pacific Partnership, but U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, labor have doubts". 8 April 2015. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  38. ^ Churchill, Chris (February 16, 2017). "Churchill: Bishop scolds Catholic politicians who stood with Planned Parenthood". Times Union. Albany, NY.
  39. ^ Willard, Lucas. "Tonko Named Chair Of Subcommittee On Climate Change".
  40. ^ "Membership". Congressional Arts Caucus. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  41. ^ "Members". House Baltic Caucus. Retrieved 21 February 2018.

External links[edit]

New York State Assembly
Preceded by
Gail S. Shaffer
Member of the New York Assembly
from the 105th district

Succeeded by
George A. Amedore Jr.
U.S. 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

U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Glenn Thompson
United States Representatives by seniority
Succeeded by
Mike Quigley