U.S. Rep. John Katko, who has faced a backlash from Republican and Conservative party leaders after voting to impeach former President Donald Trump in January, has a primary opponent.
John Murtari, of Lyons, has filed paperwork to challenge Katko, R-Camillus, for the Republican nomination in 2022. A formal announcement is planned for Wednesday.
Murtari is a software engineer and an Air Force veteran. He garnered attention in the late 1990s and early 2000s for his protests stemming from disputes over child support and custodial rights. He served jail time, including a 44-day sentence in the Cayuga County Jail in 2004, on charges related to his activism.
In an interview with The Citizen, Murtari said Katko's vote to impeach Trump was a "trigger" that led him to consider a run for Congress. But he also wants to serve the community and believes that political discourse must change.
"The essential thing is for people to accept that two intelligent people can look at the same set of facts but yet derive different conclusions based on their own personal background and life experience," he said.
Murtari says he's now a registered Republican. But he was a Democrat who briefly ran for Congress in 1994. He bowed out of the race due to his divorce. He also had a stint as chair of the Lysander Democratic Committee in Onondaga County.
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Federal Election Commission records show Murtari donated $70 to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in 2016.
Murtari told The Citizen that he has contacted Republican and Conservative party leaders in the 24th Congressional District, which includes Cayuga, Onondaga and Wayne counties, plus the western part of Oswego County. Local Conservative Party leaders have already said they won't support Katko in 2022. Some GOP leaders are also upset with him, but the party has not withdrawn its support.
There is a factor that could affect Murtari's campaign: redistricting. New York will lose one House seat in 2022 and congressional districts will be redrawn. In one possible scenario, Katko could end up in the same district as U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, a Republican who Trump has said he will support over Katko in a primary.
Even if Katko winds up in a different district than Tenney, there could be other primary challengers who emerge next year.
Benedicte Doran, Katko's political director and chair of the Onondaga County Republican Committee, said in a statement that "there will be plenty of time to talk politics next year."
"Congressman Katko is focused on serving his constituents and doing everything in his power as the top Republican on the House Committee on Homeland Security to keep our nation safe amid growing threats," Doran said.
Katko has said he wants to serve two more terms in Congress. He was first elected in 2014. He has three double-digit election wins, including a 10-point victory for reelection in 2020.
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.