As U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle sees it, the cell phone is a direct line to her constituents.
“I give out my cell phone number directly,” said Buerkle, R-Onondaga Hill. She is seeking re-election in November for the former 25th Congressional District—now the newly-formed 24th Congressional District.
As of mid-April, Buerkle had one Republican challenger, Robert Spencer of Parish. They will face each other in the Republican primary on June 26. The winner will face Democrat Dan Maffei of DeWitt, who lost the seat to Buerkle in 2010, and Green Party candidate Ursula Rozum of Syracuse in the general election.
The general election is Nov. 6.
The new 24th Congressional District was created because of the constitutionally-mandated redrawing of Congressional districts. The redistricting is based on the 2010 census. Statewide, Congressional districts were redrawn and renamed by a federal judge this spring. Overall, the state lost population and two districts. New York now has 27 congressional districts.
In Central New York, the former 25th Congressional District included all of Onondaga and Wayne Counties, the northern part of Cayuga County, and the northeastern part of Monroe County. In 2010, voter enrollment was almost equally split between Democrats and Republicans. Nearly one quarter of district voters were not registered with a party, or “unaffiliated,” according to the New York State Board of Elections.
The newly-drawn 24th Congressional District includes all of Cayuga, Onondaga and Wayne Counties, and the western part of Oswego County. As of April 13, the district has 409,462 voters, according to the New York State Board of Elections. Of them, 35 percent — 143,110 — are Republican and 33.9 percent — 138,796 — are Democrats. Another 31.2 percent — 127,556 — are registered with other parties, unaffiliated or need to re-register.
That gives Buerkle a slight advantage with the GOP registration. She also gained the opportunity to represent voters in her hometown, Auburn. She is optimistic about her chances for re-election, she said. “We like the district that was drawn,” Buerkle said, “It, geographically, makes sense.”
In Washington, all 435 seats of the House are up for election. Republicans now have 242 seats to the Democrats’ 190.
In 2010, Buerkle won the then-25th Congressional District seat from then-incumbent Dan Maffei by 648 votes. An anti-incumbent mood and Tea Party momentum led Buerkle to her first election victory.
In her freshman term so far, Buerkle has sponsored five bills and co-sponsored 141 bills, according to her website and government records. Her first vote was to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act.
The health care law, Buerkle said, has created uncertainty for small business owners. “They don’t know how it’s going to affect them,” she said, “or whether it’s even going to be constitutional.” The role of government, she said, should be “to create an environment where these small businesses can be successful.”
With a pitch to small business owners, she described herself as anti-red tape.
Buerkle sponsored legislation aimed at improving health care for veterans, recognizing the anniversary of Israel’s statehood and making a political statement: the Just Do Your Job Act of 2011, which threatened to cut the budgets of members of Congress if they did not balance the nation’s budget.
For her remaining term in Congress and re-election campaign, she lists as her objectives addressing the federal deficit, creating a “pro-growth economic agenda” with job creation, and “making sure the people in the District have a voice in Washington.”
To win the Congressional seat, Buerkle is filling her campaign coffers. From 2011 to March, she raised $737,864, according to reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission and The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that tracks money in U.S. politics. In that period, Buerkle’s campaign spent $293,073 and had $526,588 in cash on hand.
One of Buerkle’s donors is her 90-year-old mother, Sadie Colella of Auburn, who contributed $3,000 in June. Buerkle, she said, is humble, hardworking and dependable. Colella appreciated Buerkle’s help in taking care of another daughter, who had multiple sclerosis and has since died.
“Every time I ran into a little problem, Ann would run over here and straighten things out,” she said. Her daughter, she added, was “very calm and collected.”
Buerkle has six children and soon-to-be 13 grandchildren. Before the 2010 election, she represented SUNY Upstate Medical University as assistant state attorney general for 13 years. She earned her law degree atSyracuse University. Before that, she worked as a registered nurse at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. She graduated from St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing. She and her four siblings were raised in Auburn.
(Editor’s note: For a profile of former U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei, the Democraticchallenger, please see a companion story.)
Here are snapshots of challengers other than Democratic candidate Dan Maffei:
Robert Paul Spencer (Challenger, Republican)
Robert Spencer, 44, is running for his first public office. He is an IT engineer, member of the National Rifle Association and Mensa, a high-IQ organization. He lives outside of the 24th Congressional District in Parish with his wife and four kids.
He supports limited government, low taxes, free markets and free trade, according to his website. As of April 18, Spencer had not reported any campaign funds to the Federal Election Commission.
Ursula Rozum (Challenger, Green Party)
Ursula Rozum, 28, is seeking her first elected office on a transportation platform. Rozum of Syracuse advocates for mass transit. She’s an organizer for the Syracuse Peace Council and worked on campaigns in 2008.
She earned a bachelor’s in political science from McGill University in Canada. As of mid-April, Rozum had not reported any campaign funds to the Federal Election Commission.
(Elizabeth Carey is a graduate student in magazine, newspaper and online journalism.)