A political newcomer is the Republican challenger to Rep. Dan Maffei, D-Syracuse, for the 24th Congressional District seat in the fall election.
The challenger is John Katko, a former federal prosecutor from Camillus, N.Y.
Katko’s novice status could be a theme throughout the campaign, said Kristi Andersen, a political scientist at Syracuse University. “He will presumably try to use that to his advantage, say he’s not a Washington insider,” said Andersen.
This is what Ann Marie Buerkle, a former Republican Congresswoman for the 24th District, did successfully when she ran in 2010 against then- incumbent Maffei, Andersen said. Buerkle was later defeated by Maffei in 2012.
The 24th Congressional District encompasses all of Wayne, Cayuga and Onondaga Counties, as well as the western part of Oswego County. Of the district’s 455,494 registered voters, 34 percent are registered Democrats, 33 percent are registered Republicans and 25 percent are unaffiliated with a party, according to the New York State Board of Elections. The election is Nov. 4, 2014.
Katko did not respond to nine requests for an interview for this story.
His supporters cite his experience as a prosecutor as a key qualification for the Congressional seat.
Mark Aldasch, chairman of the City of Fulton Republican Committee, said he and his committee unanimously supported Katko for the Republican nomination out of a pool of eight other candidates. Katko stood out, Aldasch said, because of his past experience.
“He has a very unique perspective on law. What do congressmen do? They write laws, introduce bills. So he is more than qualified,” Aldasch said.
Katko received his bachelor’s degree from Niagara University before attending SU School of Law. After graduation, he worked for a law firm in Washington, D.C., before leaving to work for the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In 1998, Katko moved back to Central New York, along with his wife Robin and three sons. He worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Syracuse. In 2002, he helped form the Syracuse Gang Violence Task Force and oversaw all gang-related federal prosecutions. Katko now is involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the Onondaga County Foster Parent program.
Katko, 51, retired from the U.S. Department of Justice to run for Congress, according to his website.
But political scientist Andersen said that Katko’s lack of experience running for public office could hurt him in the months leading up to the election. The people in his district don’t know him yet and don’t know what he stands for, she said.
“I noticed on his webpage he does not have positions,” Andersen said. “I don’t know how he’s going to use his experience or what he’s going to talk about or what positions he’s going to take on issues.”
As the incumbent, Democrat Maffei will have the advantage of political connections in Washington, D.C., and a voting record he can point to during the campaign, said Andersen.
But with more than six months until the election, Andersen said she’s just waiting to see what type of candidate Katko is. Said Andersen: “It will be interesting for me to see whether Katko presents himself as really conservative, or as more of a moderate Republican who’s willing to work with Democrats and doesn’t take extreme positions.”
(Avery Hartmans is a senior majoring in newspaper and online journalism with a minor in English and textual studies.)