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Midterm opens the door in congressional race

Few people thought Ann Marie Buerkle, a Republican challenging Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei, would win the 2010 election. She didn't raise a lot of money. Maffei had incumbency on his side. And even though GOP gains were expected, Buerkle wasn't included in that mix.

Despite Maffei's fundraising advantage — he raised $2.3 million more than Buerkle — and being outspent by a four-to-one margin, Buerkle won the election by 648 votes. It was one of the closest races in the country that year and one of the most surprising outcomes.

Fast forward eight years and we are preparing for another midterm election. Like Republicans in 2010, Democrats are hoping for a wave in 2018. The House majority is up for grabs. Control of the Senate is in play, too.

Democrats are targeting several GOP-held House seats across the country, including New York's 24th Congressional District. The incumbent is U.S. Rep. John Katko, a two-term Republican who has won his previous elections by 20 and 22 points.

Defeating Katko, R-Camillus, will be an uphill battle for Democrats. His past electoral successes show he is a formidable foe. He is an effective fundraiser. In his most recent filing released last week, he reported having more than $1 million in the bank. The four Democrats in the race — Dana Balter, Bill Bass, Scott Comegys and Anne Messenger — have a combined cash on hand total of $84,333.

It's possible that many donors are holding out until the nomination process is settled. But even when Balter and Messenger were the only candidates in the race they weren't raising huge sums of money.

The fundraising numbers may lead to questions about whether Democrats can compete in NY-24. Political forecasters will use those figures to declare the race Katko's to lose. (A few prominent political prognosticators have the NY-24 race in the "likely Republican" column.)

But Democrats could pick up a few pointers from Buerkle's path to victory in 2010.

Buerkle knew she wasn't going to raise as much money as Maffei. Throughout her campaign, she stressed that she would take a grassroots approach. One tool she utilized in that campaign and her re-election bid: town hall meetings. She held public forums in all corners of the district. She believed that was one of the best ways to engage voters on the issues. It also provided her with an opportunity to criticize Maffei for not being accessible to his constituents.

Sound familiar? One of the main criticisms of Katko from Democrats is that he is not accessible to his constituents. While he has held several forums and participated in a televised town hall last spring, his critics believe that's not enough. They want an open forum with no conditions. In short, they want him to do what Buerkle did as a candidate and later as a member of Congress.

The Democrats in the 24th district race believe Katko is vulnerable despite what the financial reports show and what political forecasters may think. They cite FiveThirtyEight's analysis which shows Katko has voted in line with President Donald Trump's position 90.3 percent of the time. They also single out his vote for the GOP tax plan, which they criticize as a giveaway to wealthy interests.

If there is a Democratic wave, the party's nominee may be able to close the gap with Katko. They aren't going to raise more money or spend more than he will. But to win the race, they may need to embrace Buerkle's playbook from 2010. Take a grassroots approach, hold several public events and hope some old-fashioned campaigning will pay off in the end. It worked in 2010. It could work in 2018. ​

Racers relish 'adrenaline rush' of snowmobile races in Fair Haven

FAIR HAVEN — Bryan Whipple felt a surge of energy while blazing through the first 10 feet of a snowmobile race, with 190 horsepower below him.

Though Whipple ultimately lost that race at the Little Sodus Ice Drags event in Fair Haven Saturday morning, he loved every deafening moment of it. He has had the 1998 Ski-Doo Mach Z machine he brought with him since he was 12.

Since there "wasn't much to do in the winter" growing up and he wanted to keep up with his friends, he spent $1,700 he made over a summer working for his family's potato business to buy the snowmobile, which he has since filled with new parts. He is taken in by the thrill of the experience.

"I know I don't have the fastest sled, but it's just fun to have fun," Whipple said.

Other adrenaline-seekers brought that passion to the ice at the event hosted by Little Sodus Inn. Casual races were held throughout the morning. A competition to be crowned King of the Bay took place in the afternoon.

Holley Webster-Goolden, a bartender at the inn and trustee for the village of Fair Haven, said the event had been held for several years in the past but had been sidelined for the last couple years due to not having stable enough ice. She said that she believes the event is an outlet for people "to get out out of the house and get out and about."

Sticking out among the crowd with her small pink snowmobile was 9-year-old Miley Easlick. Chris Easlick, her father, said Miley has been on snowmobiles since she was around 4. Few words passed Miley's lips, as she communicated mostly through nods and half-smiles. Her actions did the talking for her, however, as she had won races that morning. 

Chris Easlick and Nick Derleth, a family friend of the Easlicks, said they both enjoy the "adrenaline rush" of racing on solid ice.

"It's an itch you can never fully scratch," Derleth said.

Scott Spath, spectating at the event with his girlfriend, Abby Dallas, said that as a resident of Fair Haven for 20 years, he simply enjoys going to the event for "a good time, good friends and good beer." As Fair Haven has a reputation as a summer destination, he's glad the event can bring people bring together when the temperature drops.

"When the beach freezes, you can still go out on the ice," Spath said.

Katko pushes water projects

A bill introduced by U.S. Rep. John Katko would provide $1 billion over five years for water infrastructure projects and streamline the application process to help states seeking funding for system upgrades.

The main objective of Katko's bill is to advance projects receiving funding through the State Revolving Fund. He also wants to preserve the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act, which has supported local water system improvements across the country.

The legislation sponsored by Katko, R-Camillus, would provide $200 million annually over a five-year period to support state revolving fund projects. It would waive a $100,000 application fee for states if projects are bundled.

Another change proposed in the bill is streamlining the federal approval process by allowing projects to receive funding without the Environmental Protection Agency needing to process more loan applications.

There are significant water infrastructure issues in Katko's district. The presence of harmful algal blooms in Owasco Lake, which provides drinking water to the city of Auburn and towns in Cayuga County, has spurred a multi-million dollar response to ensure the drinking water remains safe for residents.

Algal blooms have also been found in Cayuga and Skaneateles lakes, both of which are at least partly in Katko's district.

"In Central New York and communities nationwide, we need to focus on updating our water infrastructure systems to ensure safe, reliable drinking water is available," Katko said in a statement Friday.

Central New York elected officials backed Katko's effort. Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow said if the bill passes, it would provide a significant boost to his city's water infrastructure.

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney echoed that sentiment.

"(Katko's bill) will provide the additional funding needed to ensure that we can continue investing in our water systems for every resident and business," Mahoney said.

The legislation introduced by Katko is cosponsored by U.S. Rep. Earl Bluemenauer, an Oregon Democrat. The Senate version of the bill has bipartisan support, too. It was introduced by Republican U.S. Sens. John Boozman and James Inhofe and Democratic U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Dianne Feinstein.