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Thursday, April 18, 2024

25-year-old Legislative Assistant Aims to Unseat Representative Paul Tonko


GUILDERLAND — The seasoned U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, may be up against his youngest ever congressional adversary this coming fall.

Kevin Waltz, a 25-year-old State Assembly aide and Albany Law School student, is vying to unseat the experienced Democrat. Waltz aims to represent the majority of the Capital Region’s urban heartland and possibly a portion of the Mohawk Valley, depending on redistricting outcomes.

Waltz, a native of Guilderland, has already secured an endorsement from the Rensselaer County Republican Committee and is in line to potentially receive another from the Schenectady County Republican Committee this week.

In a recent interview, Waltz criticized his potential rival, referring to him as an “empty seat.”

“We need a representative who votes with conviction and prioritizes the Capital District over party politics,” Waltz stated, “Being a congressman requires more than just making appearances at events.”

The Daily Gazette Family of Newspapers reached out to Tonko’s campaign for a response on Monday.

Waltz, who is in his first year at Albany Law School and set to graduate from the University at Albany in 2023, is currently employed by Assemblyman Keith Brown, R-Northport. He resides in one of the most densely populated counties within the 20th Congressional District.

At present, the 20th Congressional District encompasses all of Albany, Saratoga, and Schenectady counties, as well as a portion of Rensselaer County.

However, the state’s congressional districts are due for a reshuffle by the Democrats in the state Legislature, following their rejection of the map proposed by the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission. The district lines were last redrawn a mere two years ago. The IRC’s proposal had suggested reintegrating Montgomery County into Tonko’s district — a move that state Democrats may still consider in their realignment.

Joe Whalen, Chairman of the Saratoga County Republican Committee, noted that this has complicated the usual endorsement process. Petitioning is set to commence on Tuesday.

“It’s a complex situation,” he said. “Without certainty about whether [petitions] will be accepted, it involves a lot of legwork, especially as petitions can start being circulated from tomorrow.”

The Saratoga County GOP received Waltz’s letter of intent to run late last week. Although the party has already issued endorsements, the executive committee could convene a special meeting for Waltz on Thursday, Whalen added.

Randy Bashwinger, Chairman of the Albany County Republican Committee, mentioned that Waltz is one of several candidates seeking its endorsement. The committee plans to hold an endorsement meeting sometime next week.

“He’s a promising potential candidate,” Bashwinger said. “His youth brings a certain energy. We’ll see how things unfold.”

Young candidates are not unheard of in Capital Region politics. U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, began her political career at the age of 30, making her the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at the time.

Morgan Zegers, founder of Young Americans Against Socialism, was just 21 when she ran against Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, in 2018. Despite losing by 7,297 votes, Zegers continues to contribute to Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit with chapters across high school and college campuses nationwide.

During his time at UAlbany, Waltz held the position of chapter vice president for both Turning Point USA and College Republicans. He also served as editor of The Hudsonian, the student newspaper of Hudson Valley Community College, from 2019 to 2020.

Tonko has held public office almost continuously since his first run for the then-Montgomery County Board of Supervisors in 1976. The Amsterdam native briefly left elected office to serve as president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority after a 24-year stint in the Assembly.

Frank Salamone, Chairman of the Schenectady County Democratic Committee, believes that Tonko’s progressive track record and extensive experience in the region make him a formidable candidate, even without knowing much about Waltz.

“He’s been a champion of progressive politics,” Salamone said. “We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure a resounding victory for Paul Tonko, regardless of his opponent, to keep the Capital Region moving forward.”

Kiara Thomas
Kiara Thomas
I uncover quirky and compelling stories. Always on the lookout for the 'why' behind the 'what'.
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  1. Disagree – Experience and knowledge are key in politics and a 25-year-old may not have enough to effectively represent constituents.

  2. Disagree – Age doesn’t necessarily correlate with effectiveness in politics. It’s about the candidate’s qualifications and vision for the future.


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