SYRACUSE | A group of central New Yorkers think House Speaker John Boehner and U.S. Rep. John Katko have more important things to do than hold a campaign fundraiser.
A dozen Democrats rallied in Clinton Square to protest the $250-a-person fundraiser that was held Thursday evening on Cazenovia Lake in Madison County — outside of the 24th Congressional District, which Katko represents.
Democratic activists criticized Boehner and Katko for holding campaign events when there are a slew of outstanding issues for Congress to address, including the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, raising the debt ceiling and federal budget bills.
Diane Dwire, a former chair of the Onondaga County Democratic Committee who ran unsuccessfully for state Assembly in 2014, said House Republicans accomplished "little" before leaving Washington for August recess.
"Not only did they leave D.C. with a huge to-do list, but the first order of business this week is a high-dollar fundraiser," Dwire said. "So I guess they're definitely a little out of touch with the people in their district today."
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Dwire also slammed Republicans for failing to reach an agreement on a long-term bill to fund highway projects before the August recess. Congress did pass a three-month extension of the existing measure to buy time for negotiations on a new multi-year funding bill.
"Instead of working to avoid bridge closures and heavy traffic, House Republicans and Congressman Katko have put the safety of our Syracuse drivers at risk," she said.
Democrats are hoping to unseat Katko in 2016. The Camillus Republican was first elected in 2014, when he defeated then-incumbent Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei by 20 points in the 24th District race.
Since taking office in January, Katko has worked to establish himself as a moderate representative and occasionally splits with his party on key issues.
But that's not enough for local Democrats who believe they can win back the 24th District seat in 2016 — a presidential election year.
For now, though, they lack a candidate to challenge Katko. Syracuse University professor Eric Kingson has expressed interest in running, but hasn't made an official announcement.
No other potential Democratic challengers have stepped forward to publicly express their interest — a fact the National Republican Congressional Committee made sure to highlight in a statement Thursday.
"Unlike Democrats who have shown they want a detached representative who stays holed up in Washington, John Katko understands the importance of being home in his district to hear directly from his constituents," NRCC spokesman Chris Pack said.
"It's clear that Democrats have nothing better to do with their time than to stage faux protests, since they can't find a viable candidate of their own in NY-24."
Boehner's appearance in central New York is the second time he has visited the region to support Katko's campaign. He headlined a Katko fundraiser in September 2014.
Boehner has backed Katko's re-election bid in other ways, including a $4,000 donation from his campaign committee earlier this year.
Katko praised Boehner's work ethic in an interview Tuesday with The Citizen.
"He's tireless at raising funds and trying to promote and assist the young congressmen and women across this country and he works tirelessly for that," he said. "I don't have any problems with him."
Thursday's fundraiser was a private event and closed to the press. The speaker didn't hold any public events while in central New York.
Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.