With district lines in place, challenger sets sights on Tonko

By Adam Shanks – March 26, 2012

The 20th Congressional District, formerly known as the 21st Congressional District, has a new Republican candidate for the 2012 election.

New York’s congressional lines were officially set by a federal court last week, solidifying the race between Democratic incumbent Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Republican bank executive Bob Dieterich.

Although it wasn’t entirely certain what the final Capital Region congressional district would look like, Dieterich announced his intention to run against Tonko earlier this month at the Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia.

Dieterich, a New York Air National Guard veteran, is the vice president and chief financial officer of First National Bank of Scotia and was named CFO of the Year in the “under $20 million” category by the Capital District Business Review.

Dieterich has positioned himself as a fiscal conservative.

“Too many American families right here in our district are suffering the consequences of irresponsible federal fiscal policy, reckless spending and snowballing government debt,” Dieterich said.

The announcement came without New York’s congressional district lines having officially been set. Every 10 years the state is forced to redraw its district maps for both the state Legislature and Congress. As a result of slow population growth measured in the 2010 census, New York has lost two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Roanne Mann, a U.S. magistrate, took over the drafting process when a federal court appointed her in response to a lawsuit that claimed the Legislature, which has the authority to draw the congressional lines, had demonstrated they were unable to do so.

The Legislature had the opportunity to draw its own maps, but failed to reach a compromise before the deadline last week.

Under the official maps, the Capital Region congressional district would lose half of Montgomery County, part of Fulton County, and all of Scoharie County. While Tonko won both of those districts in 2010, they were his campaign’s closest calls. Tonko edged his Republican opponent, Theodore Danz Jr., narrowly by a 7,210 to 6,699 margin.

However, while losing Montgomery and Scoharie counties would appear to disadvantage any Republican candidate, the 20th District would also take over parts of Saratoga, presumably losing some incumbency power.

The 20th District will gain the city of Saratoga, which in 2010 supported Democratic incumbent Scott Murphy over Republican challenger Chris Gibson in an election Gibson won handily.

“I am saddened to lose Schoharie, Fulton and Western Montgomery Counties — especially those areas that we have continued to fight for after last year’s flood,” Tonko said in a statement. “I am excited for the opportunity to represent Saratoga Springs and other new areas of Saratoga County.”

Tonko’s district would also gain Clifton Park, much larger than Saratoga, a town which did vote Republican in 2010 by a significant margin.

“We’re very excited about the new district,” said Scott Hommel, a spokesman for Dieterich.

Hommel said the lack of final maps had been a concern, but the campaign has already raised money, and “we’ll continue on that path.” He admitted it will be easier with finalized maps.

The Schenectady County Republican Chair already supports Dieterich, and Hommel says he expects more endorsements from other counties with maps set.

The drop in the number of congressional districts, and subsequent inability of the legislature to agree on maps, has affected other candidates as well.

Republican Tom Engel, a former federal prosecutor, had announced he would run for New York’s 22nd Congressional District, whose current representative, Democrat Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, announced his retirement earlier this year. However, with the release of Mann’s maps, which essentially dissolve the 22nd District, he said earlier this month he would end his bid.

“When I entered this race, my purpose was to retire Congressman Maurice Hinchey and his liberal agenda … with the recent retirement of Congressman Hinchey … and the maps released [earlier this month] by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mann, it appears that goal may become a reality,” Engel said in a statement.

Without a 22nd District, Engel would have four districts in which he could run, all held by fellow Republicans.

“Under Judge Mann’s version of the congressional maps the territory of the current 22nd District would be parceled out among the congressional seats currently held by Chris Gibson, Nan Hayworth, Richard Hanna and Tom Reed,” Engel said. “I believe this represents the best possible outcome for the citizens of the district and for New York state.”