Analysis: Congressman’s retirement leaves big hole in upstate politics

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SYRACUSE, NY (WRVO) – Rep. John Katko’s (R-Camillus) decision not to run for office this year leaves a huge hole in the political landscape of central New York. The Republican’s four-term retirement announcement last week is ultimately helping Democrats, according to Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University.

“He was going to be almost impossible to beat,” Reeher said. “Now, of course, with a free seat, it completely changes the game.”

How this all unfolds has a lot to do with how state lawmakers redraw the maps of Congress in New York. A declining population means New York will lose a seat in Congress this year. Reeher said it will be easier to carve out what will be the old 24th District without lobbying in place for it. But that decision is still weeks away.

“The potential slate of candidates who will run if this district remains somewhat intact are waiting to see what this process yields,” he said. “Because they want to know what district they’re running in and how that fits with their political allegiances and perspectives.”

An independent commission was unable to agree on a single set of new district maps. Republicans and Democrats on the commission each submitted maps to the state legislature, which rejected them all. The commission has one more chance to submit new maps to lawmakers. If those are defeated as well, the Democrat-dominated legislature will draw the district lines itself.

Katko had entrenched himself as a moderate, ready to work across party lines. And some of his votes, including the vote for former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment, prompted the state’s Conservative Party to break ranks with Katko. Already, conservatives, including Trump, are applauding the news. Trump released a statement on Friday saying “Great news, another bites the dust. Katko from upstate New York is gone!

But Reeher isn’t so quick to think Katko couldn’t handle the heat from the party’s right wing.

“I think it would be a mistake to think that he was kicked out of Congress by Donald Trump and his supporters. Because he’s faced this before,” Reeher said. “He had the guts to vote to impeach him a second time, and it’s not something he would crush or avoid.”

But Reeher admitted that in these divided times it is difficult to be a moderate politician.

“Being moderate in both parties is tough right now, just ask Sen. Joe Manchin (DW Va),” he said. For lack of a better word, the hassle of this over the years must wear.

Overall, Reeher said Katko successfully represented the more moderate tendencies in that part of the state and was able to get things done.

“Politically, by far, the most important legacy is that moderates can succeed and resist the extremes of their party,” Reeher said. “Has he always done this in all the ways people would like to see? No. But he did it in a big way, and that’s undeniable.

Katko faced at least three main potential challengers this year. Three Democrats have also declared their intention to run for the seat. But with Katko gone, more candidates from each party are expected to join the race this year.

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