U.S. Rep. John Katko on Monday accused Democratic challenger Dana Balter of misleading 24th Congressional District voters about her ties to central New York after the release of a new campaign commercial over the weekend.
The first half of the 30-second TV ad features Balter, D-Syracuse, discussing why she moved to the region.
"I chose to make central New York my home 15 years ago because I love it here," she said. "It's why I'm running for Congress."
But Katko, R-Camillus, raised questions about Balter's background in a lengthy statement Monday afternoon.
"Dana Balter likes to tell voters she's lived in central New York for 15 years. That's simply not true," Katko said. "As it stands today, voters have absolutely no idea how long Dana Balter has lived in central New York."
When Balter announced her candidacy last year, she said she moved to Syracuse in 2003. She also mentioned a head injury that forced her to postpone her studies at Syracuse University.
In his statement, Katko acknowledged that the injury "is more than a legitimate reason to take time off and seek care." But, he added, Balter has "repeatedly been dishonest about how long she's lived here, and what she was doing while out of town."
A timeline provided by Balter's campaign details when the Syracuse Democrat lived in central New York. She moved to the region in 2003 and enrolled at Syracuse University. She suffered a head injury in 2004, and continued to live in Syracuse through 2005 and 2006.
In 2007, she moved to Pennsylvania to live with her sister. She remained there through 2009.
Balter moved to Florida in 2010, where she lived at a condominium in Naples owned by her brother. She lived there through 2011 and in 2012, moved back to Syracuse and bought a house on Lorraine Avenue. She re-enrolled at Syracuse University that August.
Based on the campaign's timeline, Balter has lived in Syracuse and studied at Syracuse University since returning in 2012. She became a visiting assistant teaching professor in 2017.
Balter responded to Katko's accusation with her own claim that the GOP congressman is misleading voters. She said she's been open about her situation since the beginning of her congressional campaign.
"I moved to Syracuse in 2003, fell in love with central New York and decided to make it my home," Balter said. "I spent five years, 2007 to 2012, living with family while recovering from a serious illness. As soon as I was able, I returned to Syracuse because this is my home."
The exchange is reminiscent of Katko's criticism of then-U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei during the 2014 campaign. Katko repeatedly questioned Maffei's ties to central New York. During one speech in Auburn, he remarked that the only district Maffei cared about was the District of Columbia.
Katko went on to win that election by 20 points.
As a challenger in that race, Katko said his background was examined. He noted that Balter's campaign has focused on accountability and transparency, then accused her of misleading voters about her background.
"Voters deserve to know basic information about a candidate," he said. "Questions like, 'How long have you lived here?', seem reasonable."
Balter responded, "I have given the congressman ample opportunities to ask me questions about this in open public forums but he has declined to join me. If he had joined me, we could have settled this matter long ago."
The two are locked in a competitive race for the 24th district seat. One election forecaster, Cook Political Report, rates the race "lean Republican." Earlier this month, Balter announced she raised $1.5 million in the third quarter of 2018 — a record for this Syracuse-area congressional district.
Katko is favored to win. There hasn't been a public poll released since late August, when a Siena College survey found he led Balter by 15 points, 54 to 39 percent.