Sept. 25, 2008

Meet the candidates: John Tonello

About this series: Several state Senate and Congressional candidates have been invited by Cornell's Office of Government and Community Relations to meet with faculty and staff at a series of informal luncheons on campus. The Chronicle will publish profiles of these candidates leading up to the Nov. 4 election.

Candidate: John Tonello

Party: Democratic

Seeking: New York State Senate seat representing the 53rd senatorial district (at 2,500 square miles, one of the state's largest; it includes all of Chemung, Steuben, Schuyler and Yates counties and western Tompkins County, including Ithaca).

Opponent: Incumbent Sen. George Winner, R-Elmira (26 years in State Assembly, four years in state Senate).

BACKGROUND

Age: 41

Education: A.S., liberal arts, Corning Community College, 1984; B.S., journalism, Syracuse University, 1987.

Past employment: Newspaper reporter and editor, Web developer, technology manager, media relations professional.

Current positions: Communications director, Cornell Graduate School, 2003-present. Mayor of Elmira, N.Y. (population 30,000), 2005-present. Re-elected to a four-year term in 2007. During his first term, Tonello and Elmira City Council revamped operations and accounting procedures, sold off nonessential city properties and cut spending, to turn a $3.1 million budget deficit into a $500,000 surplus within 18 months.

QUOTES

On party politics: "I'm happy to be a Democrat, but my approach to government isn't partisan. I don't govern from a party position."

On government reform: [Tonello supports tort reform and comprehensive tax reform, and wants to put an end to obstacles caused by traditional partisan politics. Democrats in Albany want equity in resources for lawmakers and will encourage bipartisan support of legislation.]

"Democrats are committed, and I am committed, in the first 30 days, to changing the rules [in Albany], and providing equal resources and staff for everyone. If you have a good project, Republican or Democrat, you should get the money."

On the state economy: "New York has lost too many jobs -- a half-million manufacturing jobs since 1990 alone. ... Upstate New York will truly benefit if we take advantage of the green economy. There is huge interest in everything related to energy efficiency, and government has to work with private industry to create demands for systems that will work. A [proposed] bigger, better bottle bill will recover millions of containers, and unclaimed deposits will go to a fund for resource recovery. There is also a demand for organic farming; the New York City demand for organic foods is climbing and has grown to a $7.5 billion market as of 2007. I would like to see more investment in helping farmers to convert to organic practices. You also have to invest in technology transfer, so you can monetize what is coming out of university research centers."

On health care: "To me, it's criminal not to provide health care to people, rich or poor. ... A student at any university has access to care at a facility like Gannett; there's nothing that exists like that out in the world. There are clinics on the low end, but no clinics of quality for the middle class. The student health service model is a very highly effective model, and it's very focused on prevention, containment and information.

"Even if we find a way to solve the problems of providing health care, we may not have the doctors here. Many small cities and lower-income areas have a problem finding doctors. We need to get more people into medical schools who want to work in small or rural communities."