In a crowded, noisy tavern in Albany, NY on the evening of September 9, Claudia Miller and Dawn Egry waited in anticipation. Their partner, Ruthie Rueda, stood close to them, with clenched fists. After two months of constant door-to-door canvassing, these three 1199SEIU member political activists eagerly awaited the finally vote tally to be announced.
Just before 11 pm, former Assemblyman and long time 1199SEIU ally Paul Tonko was declared the winner in the Democratic Primary for Congress in the 21st district. The seven-county district has been represented by a Democrat for 50 years. With an overwhelming Democratic enrollment, the Primary victory practically guarantees a win for Tonko in the general election on November 4.
“I know Paul Tonko will be great in Congress,” said Miller, a certified nursing assistant at Glendale Nursing Home. “He spoke up for us so many times and always represented our patients’ interests and our concerns in the state Assembly. The challenge was to make sure that everyone else knew that he was by far the best candidate in a crowded field of five.”
Egry, Miller’s colleague at the nursing home in Schenectady, said that she could not even begin to count how many doors she knocked on and how many people she spoke to about Tonko. “Most folks in Schenectady and Amsterdam have known Paul Tonko for years as their Assemblyman,” she said. “He’s very involved in community activities. But in other places in the district like Albany, where he was less known, a lot of folks were undecided for quite a while. Once they got to know more about him that changed. But we had many long discussions at the doors.”
Paul Tonko believes that “health care is a right and not a privilege for only those who can afford it.” He campaigned on some of the most important issues of our time:
Universal health care, including coverage for mental health
An end to the war in Iraq and assuring that when our troops return safely they are provided with proper medical care and other needed services.
A comprehensive plan to reduce the price of gasoline and fuel by implementing a national 65 mph speed limit, a national carbon cap and trade program, a national scrap and replace program, a national renewable portfolio standard, and acceleration of the corporate average fuel economy standards.
Rueda, another 1199SEIU MPO and a certified nursing assistant at Amsterdam Memorial Hospital, said, “The real winners are the people in our l District. I came home so tired every night and my kids asked, ‘Mama, what is so important that you are doing?’ I told them I was working to make sure they will have a good future and I think we accomplished that. But now we have to go out and elect Barack Obama president,” she added with a smile.