LYONS — John Murtari said he has voted for Congressman John Katko and made contributions to his campaign.
But when the central New York Republican, who represents Wayne County in the 24th Congressional District, broke ranks with fellow GOP House members to vote to impeach former President Trump, the Lyons resident felt “betrayed.”
Murtari admits he’s not always comfortable with the former president’s style, but he agreed wholeheartedly with his approach on a number of issues — from the economy to immigration to getting NATO allies to pony up more funding for defense.
“He was right on the money,” Murtari said.
However, unlike party members who grumble about Katko’s actions — including hundreds on the congressman’s Facebook page — Murtari decided to do something about it.
He’s planning to challenge Katko next year on the Republican line in what is now the 24th Congressional District. Murtari, who lives on Franklin Street in Lyons in the home he grew up in, hears that the district is likely to remain somewhat in its current makeup, with Wayne County included in whole. But if it’s not, he’ll take up the fight in an adjacent district that may potentially include Lyons, such as the 25th, which is represented by Monroe County Democrat Joe Morelle.
Murtari expects the new districts to be announced this fall by the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission.
The former Air Force pilot is currently a software engineer, working as a contractor for AT&T.
He also describes himself has a civil rights activist, much of it borne with his frustration related to custody and child support battles with his ex-wife that left him with little money and, at times, in jail. He’s been behind bars, he said, for doing nothing more than expressing his free speech rights about issues related to child support and parental rights.
The one-time Democrat — he is a former chair of the Lysander, Onondaga County, Democratic Committee — became a Republican 14 years ago.
He supports what Trump was able to accomplish in his four years but not necessarily his style. He does not think, as Trump contends, that the election was stolen from him, but Murtari also doesn’t think he incited the U.S. Capitol riots on Jan. 6.
When Katko — who Murtari believes does not like Trump — voted to impeach the departing president, he was moved to action.
“I’ve got to challenge that guy,” is what he remembers thinking at the time.
Murtari doesn’t believe he’ll be the only challenger, once congressional district alignments shake out.
Indeed, Katko’s Facebook page continues to be littered with barbs from Trump supporters who believed he acted as a traitor by voting to impeach him.
Katko has defended his vote, saying that the former president urged his supporters to breach the Capitol, where they at one point entered the House and Senate chambers and legislative offices.
Unlike some Republicans, Murtari said he’d be happy to have Trump standing by his side supporting him.
Murtari admits his campaign can’t match the funding of an incumbent such as Katko, but he “absolutely” believes he has a chance of knocking him off in a primary next year.
He pointed to the divisiveness that has gripped the nation between the political parties and even family members and friends, and noted that as a country we have grown intolerant of opposing views.
“We’ve got to have civil discourse,” Murtari said. He defines that as intelligent people accepting the same set of facts but reaching different conclusions based on life experiences.
He said his campaign theme is “A different kind of candidate and a different kind of campaign.” He said he is going by the moniker Citizen John to distinguish himself as a political outsider.
Benedicte Doran, political director for the Katko campaign, issued the following statement in response to a request for comment by the Finger Lakes Times:
“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. There will be plenty of time to talk politics next year.”
Those who want to learn more about Murtari can go to his website, votecitizenjohn.com.