Steuben County Republican Committee Chairman Joe Sempolinski is headed to Congress after winning a special election Tuesday in New York’s 23rd District to serve the remainder of former Rep. Tom Reed’s term.
Sempolinski beat Democrat Max Della Pia, 53 percent to 47 percent. The Associated Press called the race at 11:55 p.m.
Reed resigned in May to join a lobbying firm. In early 2021, Reed had already declared that he would not seek another term following accusations of sexual misconduct.
A former staffer who worked for Reed as district director and campaign manager, Sempolinski said he felt compelled to jump into the special election after Reed’s departure.
“I’ve had people calling me over the course of this campaign because there’s no congressman,” Sempolinski said.
He announced a bid for the open seat last year, but he’s not seeking a full term starting in January because courts in New York threw out the redistricting plan backed by the state legislature, and the new map shifts the district’s population center to the Buffalo suburbs.
He says inflation and gas prices are especially crucial in his district, where public transportation is scarce and people regularly have to drive great distances.
Sempolinski was born in Elmira, N.Y., and grew up in the Painted Post area. He studied history and politics at Georgetown University and earned a master’s degree in political science from Yale.
He spent summers in college and grad school volunteering for local political campaigns and worked on Reed’s bid for Congress in 2009.
“I ended up being the campaign manager because I had some experience,” he said. “I was willing to work very cheap. I could live on my parents’ couch.”
After Reed won in 2010, Sempolinski was offered a job with the congressman’s D.C. staff but requested to be district director instead.
“This is where I was born, where I’ve been raised. And I felt I could do more good for the people of that region being there,” he said.
He was district director for five years before leaving Reed’s congressional staff to become campaign manager of Reed’s reelection campaign. He bounced back and forth between Reed’s congressional and campaign staff for five more years before departing in 2018.
After his tenure in Congress is over, he intends to drop right back into staffer mode. He took a job as chief of staff for New York State Assemblyman Joseph Giglio in early 2022, which he left to run in the special election.
“[If at] noon on Jan. 3 I go back to being a state-level staffer, I’ll go back to being a state-level staffer,” he said.