Republican John Katko has been representing Central New York in Congress since 2015. For the second time in a row, he’s facing Democrat challenger Dana Balter in a race for re-election. According to the most recent Siena College poll, the race for New York’s 24th Congressional District is a relatively dead heat.

Who is John Katko?

Katko is a three-term congressman. He grew up in Fairmount, but spent a lot of his childhood in Syracuse’s Tipperary Hill neighborhood. Katko went to St. Patrick’s School and worked at his uncle’s grocery store, Gridley’s Silver Star, in the shadow of the upside down traffic light. 

“One of my greatest experiences since I’ve been in Congress happened right at this corner, when I was grand marshall of the green beer parade. That was like big time. That was really fun,” said Katko.

Katko said his commitment to Central New York motivates him to run for re-election. In this hyperpartisan climate, he says it’s his job to help take back the middle.

“I am not partisan at all,” said Katko. “I will work with anybody and I understand that everybody in Central New York needs representation. And when I go down there, that’s what I do. Especially now when we get out of this pandemic, we need people like me down there to maintain the middle and get something done.” 

Support For Trump

According to the Lugar Center and Georgetown University, Katko is the second most bipartisan member of Congress.

As for the presidential race, he says Joe Biden is the nicer candidate. But he supports President Donald Trump for re-election, because for Katko, it’s about policy.

“I’m concerned more, not so much with the president, as to where we’re going to go if a Democrat controls the agenda. And I’m very concerned about that, because we can’t tax people coming out of a pandemic,” said Katko. “We got 90% of businesses in New York that are small businesses. We need help to these individuals and we need relief. We don’t need more burdens on these small businesses.”

Navigating the Pandemic

Katko cosponsored the CARES Act, Congress’ March coronavirus relief bill. At the time, everything was shut down and it was a way to get money to the front lines as quickly as possible, he said.

While the bill provided relief for many individuals, health care providers, and small businesses, it excluded counties with fewer than 500,000 people. Onondaga County, the largest county in NY-24, has about 460,000 people, according the the Census Bureau.

“They were concerned about going below 500,000 how they would get the money, so they sent $7.8 billion to Governor Cuomo,” said Katko. “People don’t realize that. $7.8 billion to Governor Cuomo for municipalities and counties below 500,000. He just hasn’t gotten the money to the front lines. He’s kind of kept it in Albany, so that’s the problem.”

The state government received about $5.5 billion from the bill, according to the Empire Center. That money can be used for expenses caused by the coronavirus.

Another COVID-19 relief bill is under consideration. The Problem Solvers Caucus, including Katko, introduced a $1.5 trillion plan that aims to address the needs for the next 6-12 months.

“That is what’s pushing the narrative now, and I think right after the election you’re probably going to see movement,” said Katko. “Pelosi and the democrats do not want to give the president any victories before the election. Right afterwards I’m quite confident that we’re going to see a package of some sort.

Off the Trail

When he’s not in D.C., Katko likes to ride his Harley with his wife. He also spends time with his three sons, Liam, Logan, and Sean, and keeps an 18-year-old picture of them in his wallet. 

“I don’t talk about it publicly, but they’re older now so I’m more comfortable with it,” said Katko. “My wife and I adopted two foster kids, we’re heavily involved in that, when we first came back to Syracuse. I don’t do it for political gain or talk about it, but it's just something that I did. I really believe in giving back to the community. And that was by far the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done in our entire lives.” 

​A life that includes more than 20 years as an assistant U.S. attorney and half a dozen years representing Central New York.