EVERY even-numbered calendar year brings an election for the State Legislature, and all 150 members of the State Assembly, as well as the entire State Senate, must run.
The eight counties of Western New York are represented by 15 members of the Assembly. Today The News names its choices in the Erie County Assembly contests. Editorials tomorrow will cover the rest.
District 140: Schimminger
Democrat Robin L. Schimminger, 49, of Kenmore, was first elected to the Assembly in 1976. While his basic intelligence, his long tenure and his membership in the Assembly majority ought to translate into more general influence than it does, Schimminger has made strides in a specialty area, small-business legislation.
Schimminger is chairman of the Assembly's Small Business Committee, where his aim is to improve the state's job-creation climate. His recent initiatives include a linked deposit program in which banks that lend money at low interest to small and medium-sized businesses get state deposits in return. It has gained recognition from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Republican Joseph P. Millemaci, 41, of Kenmore, vice president of an insurance company, has been a member of the Tonawanda Town Board since 1991. He believes welfare reform is essential, but says a balance is needed because some people require help to avoid homelessness. He says gambling casinos would not be a productive direction for Buffalo. Millemaci, running a limited and underfunded campaign, is a respectable challenger.
In a close call, The News endorses Schimminger.
District 141: Eve
Buffalo's largely black inner city has a passionate advocate in Democrat Arthur O. Eve, 63, the deputy speaker of the Assembly. Eve, who not long ago underwent an intense religious conversion, vows he will become a street evangelist when his legislative days end. In the meantime, he continues to give effective voice in Albany to Buffalo's minorities.
Eve is also a powerful advocate of the entire Erie-Niagara region. Together with Sen. Dale M. Volker, R-Depew, he co-chairs an organization of the legislative delegation from Western New York that works across party lines for the benefit of the full community. It is commonly judged to be the most unified and effective regional delegation in the Capitol.
Eve was first elected to the Assembly in 1966. He has not been seriously challenged for many years. This year, Republican Gloria J. Johnson of Buffalo is only token opposition.
District 142: Peimer
Richard R. Anderson, 52, has been a disappointing legislator. Anderson, a Williamsville Republican, was first elected to the Assembly in 1988. His Albany record is undistinguished. Growing Amherst, Erie County's largest town, needs better representation in Albany.
With no reservations, the News recommends the election of the Democratic challenger, Susan Y. Peimer, 49, of Amherst. She has a strong record as a community volunteer for organizations including Planned Parenthood of Erie County and the Amherst Central School District. She has valuable experience in both consensus building and lobbying the Legislature.
Peimer would be a determined, intelligent lawmaker. She supports reforming "New York's failed welfare system" with specific job training, day care and medical coverage. She wants to reform legislative habits, including ending late state budgets by stopping legislators' paychecks. She bills herself as an "independent Democrat."
Anderson is no match for Peimer.
District 143: Tokasz
Democrat Paul A. Tokasz, 50, of Cheektowaga, has developed into one of this area's brightest lights in Albany. As chairman of the Election Law Committee, Tokasz played an important role in 1996 reform legislation that will make it easier for potential political candidates to get on the ballot. He has also been a voice for easier voter registration.
In the next session, he wants to spearhead campaign finance reform, a worthy goal. Another priority for Tokasz is school finance reform, trying to move away from the property tax to other types of taxation to support public education. Tokasz was first elected to the Assembly in 1988. He has used his seniority well to gain influence in the Capitol corridors. It would be a mistake to end his service his year.
His Republican opponent is Ted B. Morton, 37, of Cheektowaga, a branch manager for an investment firm, who describes himself as "more a Conservative than a Republican." He wants the Legislature to continue cutting taxes, strongly advocates a voucher system for schools and wants Albany to require that local governments perform efficiency studies. Morton shows a good awareness of Capitol issues, but Tokasz is the superior candidate.
District 144: Hoyt
Sam Hoyt, 34, a Buffalo Democrat, is a hard-working lawmaker with an independent streak. He combines youthful vigor with a solid understanding of Albany's ways and issues. His district, which includes Grand Island and parts of Buffalo, is well represented. He merits re-election.
Hoyt has a strong environmental record. He is in the forefront of historic preservation issues. He believes "the answer to society's woes is jobs, jobs, jobs" and wants welfare reform to function in a way that eliminates disincentives to work. He is a firm opponent of gambling casinos.
Mark B. Mitskovski, 40, of Buffalo, the Republican candidate, is a self-described "refugee from Communist Macedonia" now studying for a master's degree at Canisius College. His first priority is economic development, but he describes as "ludicrous" the competition between local industrial development agencies and would limit IDAs to one for each county. Mitskovski, a thoughtful candidate, is overreaching in this race but could be a good prospect for other public office.
District 145: Cross
Voters have their choice between a raw newcomer and an undistinguished veteran politician who was first elected to the Assembly 20 years ago.
Democrat Richard J. Keane, 63, of Buffalo, has failed to capitalize on his seniority. He has too little to show for his time in office and is not influential. The district needs a new voice in Albany.
His Republican opponent is Justin A. Cross, 37, of East Aurora, known to sports fans as an offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills from 1981 to 1987. Currently, Cross makes his living as a pilot for TWA, but politically he is pretty much a blank page. He describes himself as "willing to learn" and stresses his "coachability."
Cross wants to reverse the downward economic spiral in New York State where, he believes, high taxes and over-regulation are damaging. He is a genial man who shows enthusiasm for taking on legislative duties. Cross has a lot to learn about Albany. But under the circumstances, voters should choose the raw newcomer and give Cross a chance.
District 146: Smith
In the only Western New York legislative race without an incumbent, Democrat Richard A. Smith, 56, of Hamburg, is matched against Republican Michael K. Mosey, 32, of Lakeview. Incumbent Francis J. Pordum is running for Congress.
Smith, Town of Hamburg highway superintendent for 18 years, is active in fishing and sportsmen organizations and in volunteer fire companies. He believes Woodlawn Beach was opened as a state park too soon and that pollution, parking and access issues were not addressed. Smith supports welfare reform but says there should be more training and tax credits for companies that take part in workfare.
Mosey, who lost the Assembly race to Pordum two years ago, is a vice president in his family's magazine-subscription business. He wants to cut taxes at both the state and local levels and spur economic development. He believes Woodlawn should be closed until pollution is remedied.
Neither of the candidates is outstanding, but Smith seems to have a better understanding of government. On the basis of maturity and experience, he merits the nod.
District 148: Wirth
Republican Sandra Lee Wirth, 51, of West Seneca, a realtor, was first elected to the Assembly in 1994 after serving three years in the Erie County Legislature. From an unimpressive beginning, Wirth has grown in office and demonstrates a lively awareness of issues.
Wirth says more needs to be done to change workers' compensation so it balances the needs of business with worker safety. Her goals include an on-time budget, reached by deferring all legislative business until the budget is complete. She is insightful in faulting both parties for Albany's bad habit of passing one-house bills, the sort sponsors know cannot get through the other branch. She urges "a little bit of compassion" in the welfare-reform movement.
Running for the Democrats is Richard T. Quinn, 55, of Lancaster, who ended a 33-year stint as an educator in the Buffalo public school system by serving as the acting deputy superintendent. He retired in June. While he rose high in the setting of a school bureaucracy, it is unclear that he would function well in the more complex and freewheeling arena of state government.