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Tonko, Buhrmaster campaigns focus on economy

October 26, 2008
By KERRY McAVOY/The Leader-Herald

With the recent bailouts of major financial firms, steep drops on Wall Street and fears of widespread layoffs, the focus of national political campaigns has turned to the economy.

The 21st Congressional District race is no exception.

Both major-party candidates have emphasized energy policy, but they are shifting their focus toward stabilizing the shaky economy.

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Democrat Paul Tonko of Amsterdam and Republican Jim Buhrmaster of Scotia have contrasting ideas about how to solve the economic problems.

Whoever wins the seat will replace U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty, a Democrat, who is stepping down. The district includes Montgomery County, and Johnstown and Gloversville.

Amsterdam native Tonko, a former state assemblyman for the 105th District, which includes Montgomery County, won the Democratic primary.

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More information

Information on the candidates' positions, plans and backgrounds can be found on their Web sites:

Jim Buhrmaster -



Paul Tonko -

He began serving in the Assembly in 1983 after serving on the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors. He served as assemblyman for 24 years. He left his seat in 2007 to become the president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Scotia native Buhrmaster is serving his second term in the Schenectady County Legislature. He's vice chairman of its Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee.

Tonko said government should restore financial-system regulations to prevent the type of economic collapse the nation has seen recently.

He said "watchdog" regulations need to be put back in place and closer monitoring of the credit industry is necessary.

"Free enterprise going unchecked can damage our economy," Tonko said.

He said the dismantling of regulations on the banking and mortgage industries have slowly killed the markets.

"The current practice is to look back, not forward, and that all needs to change," Tonko said.

Tonko also said the middle class needs tax relief.

Buhrmaster said there were signs of economic trouble long before the national crisis hit.

He said he does not agree with the rescue plan passed by Congress because it includes additional spending that he contends should not be part of the package.

Buhrmaster, however, said the bailout is beginning to bring money to bigger institutions.

He said those who are accountable for the financial industry's demise will be held accountable.

Buhrmaster said Congress must decrease spending, just like most Americans.

He said the nation needs to start getting out of debt.

He said the country is mortgaging future generations. With the national debt growing every year, Buhrmaster said future generations will be unfairly paying for the mistakes of today.

"That's why I'm running," Buhrmaster said.

Energy concerns

In addition to being concerned about the financial industry, many Americans also are concerned about high energy prices.

Both candidates have extensive experience with energy.

Buhrmaster is the president of his family's nearly 100-year-old business, the Buhrmaster Energy Group.

He has published his energy plan online.

It calls for domestic oil drilling on federal land and offshore on the Atlantic Coast.

"We should also provide states with a process for lifting the federal moratorium on drilling," Buhrmaster stated in his plan.

Buhrmaster said oil-price issues have been going on since the 1970s. He said once the prices begin to drop, many people forget about the problem until it resurfaces later.

He said the high cost of oil contributed to the financial crisis the country now faces.

"When I started, the big issue was the war. Within a month, it was energy," Buhrmaster said. "Then things started to change and the prices of energy came down fantastically. The sad thing is people accepted the prices. Now people have moved from energy to the economy."

Buhrmaster's plan calls for the increased use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. He's promoting energy efficiency and conservation in both commercial and residential uses of oil.

Tonko does not agree the nation should be drilling for oil offshore and on federal land.

Drilling for this oil will not lead to America's freedom from foreign oil, he said, because the oil will go into the world supply and not strictly stay in the United States.

Tonko is a major proponent of alternative energy sources. He said the nation needs to reduce its dependence on fossil-based fuels.

Tonko said the nation also needs to increase its use of green energy sources, such as wind and solar power, and create a "green economy."

"We need to address energy as a commodity," Tonko said.

Tonko has published his comprehensive energy plan online.

It calls for Congress to address the increasing cost of home heating for working families by expanding the Home Energy Assistance Program. He's wants the government to put more money into alternative energy research, create training programs for alternative energy jobs, introduce a carbon cap on industries through permits, establish national mandates on renewable energy sources, end subsidies for big oil companies, and expand access to public transportation.

Tonko said his experience and connections will make a difference in Washington.

"I have a high degree of passion for the people I represent. I get things done, and I am not content to settle for the status quo," Tonko said. "I want to step up and meet the challenge."

Buhrmaster said he is heading to Washington to represent people who are just like himself.

"I'm one of them. I'm a people person and I've worked in the community for 40 years," Buhrmaster said. "My whole direction to government is less spending, taxing and government."

Buhrmaster and Tonko won't be the only two names on the ballot for the congressional seat.

Albany area attorney Phil Steck will be on the ballot on the Independence Party line.

Steck has stopped his campaign after conceding the Democratic race to Tonko in September.

Business owner Steven Vasquez will be on the ballot under the Libertarian Party line.

Joe Sullivan, a retired Navy captain, is asking voters to write his name in the Congress column of the ballot.

The campaigns of Tonko and Buhrmaster have raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to, in the last report on the finances of the campaign on Sept. 30, Tonko had raised $452,691 and spent $368,820. Buhrmaster's campaign had raised $351,483 and spent $322,324.

The salary for a member of the House is $169,300.

The 21st Congressional District covers all of Albany, Montgomery, Schenectady and Schoharie counties and portions of Rensselaer and Saratoga counties and the cities of Gloversville and Johnstown in Fulton County.

Registered voters will have their say on who will be sent to Washington from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 4.

Kerry McAvoy covers Montgomery County. She can be reached at



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