Soccis

John and Tina Socci appear in a minute-long commercial for U.S. Rep. John Katko's re-election campaign. 

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People watching the Olympics Tuesday night on Syracuse's NBC affiliate, may have seen the ad released two weeks ago by U.S. Rep. John Katko's re-election campaign.

The minute-long commercial features John and Tina Socci, of Owasco, sharing their story — the loss of their daughter Katie, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in June 2011, and the heroin overdose that killed their son Christopher two years later. 

The ad was significant not only for its message, but because the Soccis are both lifelong Democrats. 

Katko, who's seeking a second term in Congress, is a Republican. 

John Socci said Wednesday he's been active in politics — he ran for Owasco town supervisor in 2013 — and he regularly follows current events. Even though he and Tina are registered Democrats, they will cross party lines to support candidates. 

"My wife and I have always been of the philosophy that you vote for the best person, not the best party," he said. 

That philosophy, in part, was why the couple decided to show their support for Katko in a very public way. 

"I honestly believe that the time was right for somebody like John Katko and a commercial like that," Socci said. "The biggest impediment to our country solving problems right now is this refusal to work together — this polarization of the parties from each other. It's not the way a democracy is supposed to work."

He added: "I honestly believe that if more people are willing to look at the other side — at least look at some of the other side — like John Katko has been willing to do, our country and our Congress would solve so many more problems and make our democracy stronger." 

The Soccis are members of the Heroin Epidemic Action League, a Cayuga County group raising awareness about the dangers of opioid addiction. Through their work with the organization, they have met with Katko on multiple occasions. 

After HEAL formed, Socci said Katko was the first federal lawmaker the group approached. Usually when they request meetings with federal and state legislators they end up talking to a staffer. 

When they went Katko's office, the congressman met with the group for an hour. 

"Right off the bat, we knew John was special," Socci said. 

Socci said Katko called about a month before the commercial first aired in late July. The GOP congressman asked them if they would appear in an ad for his campaign. 

According to Socci, Katko told them that he knows it's difficult to talk about the tragedies that struck their family and he understood if they didn't want to share their message in a political ad. 

The couple didn't hesitate. 

"We both just said 'absolutely' because No, 1, I said it helps us get our message out. No. 2, you deserve it," Socci recalled telling Katko. 

Not long after the phone conversation, the commercial was filmed at the Soccis' home in Owasco. John Socci said a crew came in and the process lasted six hours, including two hours to film an interview with the couple. 

Socci was told that the interview would be edited down for a 30-second commercial. He said they decided to turn it into a minute-long ad because "they felt it was so good and so powerful." 

While Socci repeatedly praised Katko, he said the experience goes beyond a 60-second campaign ad. He said it was about sharing their story with central New Yorkers. 

"It's kind of a cliche. We try to make something good come out of tragedy," he said. "That's the way my wife and I have viewed both of our tragedies. Let's make something good come out of this. Maybe by being public, maybe by sharing our story, other people will learn from it and look for the signs of domestic abuse, look for the signs of drug abuse. That's by far the more important message than the political message." 

Katko's ad isn't the first time the heroin epidemic has been raised as a campaign issue during the 2016 elections. 

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump both have made the issue a priority during their respective campaigns. In congressional races throughout the country, candidates are discussing the need for action to address the heroin and opioid epidemic. 

Socci said it should continue to be a major issue in this year's elections. 

"It's something that all 50 states are going to have to work on, that our Congress is going to have work on, that every mother and father is going to have work on," he said. "It's a threat from within." 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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