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Meet Joe Vitollo: Candidate For NY-20

Joe Vitollo

Republican Joe Vitollo says he is running for Congress for his family’s sake.

“I’m a father of six and a grandfather of 15. Looking at the condition of America and how far we’ve come, I can’t look my grandchildren in the eye and say that we’re handing them the same America I was given 60 years ago,” said Vitollo. 

Vitollo, who has never held elected office, unsuccessfully challenged Democratic Albany County Executive Dan McCoy in 2015. In that race, Vitollo took 26 percent of the vote, but Vitollo said he believed he did better than expected, and that his previous campaign will help boost his run for the 20th District seat.

Vitollo classifies himself as a conservative with a “Libertarian streak.”

“I find myself as a conservative, and yet at the same time I feel that people have the right to do and live the way they choose to live. I don’t believe, and much like Libertarians, that we are supposed to fund the way people live and choose to live.”

A nurse by trade, Vitollo had a lot to say in about the healthcare system and heavily criticized the Affordable Care Act, something Congressman Tonko has long supported and pledged to strengthen.

“Hillary and Barack Obama, who stand behind Obamacare or the Affordable Healthcare Act, have destroyed the American healthcare system. I think it needs to be fixed, there’s so much that needs to be fixed. But first we need to start with national defense, we need to start with the finance of this country, we need to start with education, we need to start with reducing the size of the federal government.”

The 20th District, which includes portions of Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, Rensselaer, and Montgomery Counties, is predicted to be safely in Democratic territory by experts who grade districts each cycle.

Tonko, who has been in Congress since 2009 and served more than two decades in the state Assembly, is a well-known name in the Capital Region.

Vitollo, however, said voters are ready for an outside voice, and pointed to the long campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders and the rise of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump as examples.

Vitollo says while the Democrat is well known to many, Tonko has taken votes against veterans programs and Social Security. To support his charge, Vitollo recalled H.R. 1314, the federal budget bill agreed upon last December.

“The recent omnibus bill also gutted more money out of Social Security to fund other programs. Social Security was supposed to be a protected system. So he’s voting to take money, it’s borrowed, but the federal government already owes Social Security $1.5 trillion. But the question remains, is it ever going to get paid back?”

Sean Magers, a spokesman for Tonko, disputes Vitollo’s claims.

"Rep. Tonko was proud to support last year's bipartisan budget agreement, avoiding a government shutdown. When Mr. Vitollo points to this legislation as a vote against veterans and Social Security beneficiaries, which is a reckless and incorrect statement, he is also leveling that charge at respected members of his own party, Representatives Chris Gibson and Rich Hanna.”

Looking toward November, Vitollo is now kicking what he calls a grass-roots campaign into gear.

“It’s going to take time, but we can restore the country,' said Vitollo.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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