Francis Conole, an Iraq War veteran and Syracuse-area native, is the second Democrat to launch a campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. John Katko in the 24th Congressional District race.
Conole, 40, said Monday that if he is elected to Congress he will work to rebuild central New York's middle class. He thinks Katko, R-Camillus, has failed his constituents.
"It's time for new leaders in Washington who will put forward serious solutions and deliver real results to the biggest challenges like making health care more affordable, preparing central New Yorkers for the economy of the 21st century, supporting tax breaks for the middle class, not special interests, and ensuring families aren't crippled by student debt — that's why I'm running for Congress," he said.
Conole, D-Syracuse, is a Westhill High School graduate. After high school, he attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. He graduated in 2001 — three months before the Sept. 11 attacks.
He served on the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, and aboard the USS Carney, a guided missile destroyer. Following his tours at sea, he had a stint in the Office of Naval Intelligence and volunteered on President Barack Obama's Armed Forces inaugural committee in 2008.
Conole deployed to Iraq in 2010 to plan the withdrawal of U.S. special forces from the country. When he returned from Iraq, he earned a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in national security studies from the Naval War College.
He recently served as a policy adviser to Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned from President Donald Trump's administration in 2018. At the Pentagon, he advised on defense policy with a specific focus on the Middle East. While advising Mattis, he received the Defense Meritorious Achievement Medal.
Conole left active duty and serves as a commander in the Navy Reserve.
He has a large family in central New York. His grandfather, Patrick Corbett, is the only Democrat ever elected Onondaga County sheriff. The Onondaga County Justice Center is named in honor of Corbett.
Conole's grandmother was a teacher in the Syracuse City School District. His mother was a writer for the Post-Standard in Syracuse. His father was a health care administrator who served in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Conole joins Roger Misso, a Navy veteran who launched his campaign nearly two weeks ago, in the 24th district race. Dana Balter, who challenged Katko in 2018, will announce Tuesday whether she will run again in 2020.
The 24th district race is a top Democratic target. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Katko to its list of GOP incumbents the group will attempt to unseat next year.
Democrats believe Katko is vulnerable after a close election last year. He defeated Balter by five points. It was Katko's lowest margin of victory in three elections.
While Democrats added Katko to a "retirement watch list," he plans to run again in 2020. Last week, his campaign submitted a statement of candidacy to the Federal Election Commission.
The 24th district covers the western towns of Oswego County and all of Cayuga, Onondaga and Wayne counties. There are 10,000 more active Democratic voters than Republicans in the district, according to the state Board of Elections.