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Mesi's funds mainly from outside Ranzenhofer raps State Senate rival

ALBANY -- If all politics is local, Democrat Joe Mesi had some problems during the most recent fundraising period for his State Senate campaign.

Only $350 out of $140,000 he raised during a recent 14-day stretch came from voters or business interests from within the 61st Senate District -- a showing his opponent, Republican Michael Ranzenhofer, immediately seized upon Monday.

"It's kind of astonishing to see such a huge amount of money coming from outside the area," said Ranzenhofer, an Erie County legislator who is locked in a battle with Mesi, a former boxer, for the seat being vacated by retiring State Sen. Mary Lou Rath, a Williamsville Republican.

Mesi was unavailable for an interview, but a campaign official said that since campaign efforts began earlier this year, Mesi has gotten donations from more than 350 local sources.

"We're dismayed Mike Ranzenhofer continues to rely on cash from government contractors seeking subsidies and sweetheart deals," said Emma Wolfe, a Mesi spokeswoman.

The most recent period required of all candidates covered donations and expenses between Sept. 16 and 29. Only four donations during that period flowed from within the Senate district to Mesi. The rest were from New York City, the Boston area, Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles.

Filings by Mesi and Ranzenhofer show an array of special interests and individuals with a keen interest in which party controls the Senate pumping money into the Western New York campaign. The GOP, which has dominated the Senate for seven decades, has a 31-30 edge over Democrats, and a half-dozen seats are in play around the state. A Democratic takeover of the Senate would give the party control of the two legislative houses and all statewide offices.

The 61st Senate District has an active registered voter enrollment of 74,000 Republicans, 68,000 Democrats and 34,000 independents.

Like any Senate race, both sides took money from individuals or groups with business ties in one way or another to state government. In the recent 14-day filing period, most of Mesi's $140,000 total came from Democratic lawmakers and party committees. Ranzenhofer brought in $68,000.

Neither campaign, though, has attracted some of the biggest dollar attention by the Senate GOP and Democratic campaign accounts, which have been unloading huge sums on close contests on Long Island, New York City and the Rochester area.

Mesi ended the most recent reporting period with $52,000 on hand, while Ranzenhofer had $147,000 in the bank.

Givers to Mesi included a number of wealthy national Democratic donors. Henry Van Ameriingen of Manhattan, heir to a flavor and fragrance company fortune, donated $9,500, the maximum for an individual to a Senate general election campaign. Other large donors included David Dechman, a Manhattan investment executive; Ronald Ansin, a former Boston shoe company executive and philanthropist; and the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington group that advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.

Mesi got the $9,500 maximum from the Communications Workers of America in Manhattan. His biggest donor was the state Democratic Party, which gave him $72,000. That is the same amount he paid for television ads to Global Strategy Group, a consulting company whose clients include Gov. David Paterson.

Ranzenhofer got the bulk of his money from within the district. Among the exceptions were Rudin Estates, a Manhattan real estate company, which gave him $6,000. He also got $2,000 from a builders trade group. Benderson Development Co. of Buffalo gave an in-kind contribution -- $2,250 for his office space. His money flow from other politicians included $6,500 from Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, and $1,000 from Rath.

Of his $106,000 in expenses during the two-week period, $100,000 went to Greener & Hook, a Virginia firm, for television ad expenses; the firm's clients include Erie County Executive Chris Collins.

Beyond their own direct efforts, state party committees are unleashing some funds into the district. Besides the $72,000 it transferred to Mesi's account to pay for the ads, the state Democratic Party also spent another $83,000 on his behalf on unspecified efforts that could have included everything from polling to signs. The Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, meanwhile, reported spending $33,000 on Mesi's behalf during the same period.

The state Republican Party, which without a Republican in the governor's office has far less to spend than the Democratic Party on local candidates, reported no donations or expenses to Ranzenhofer's campaign during the two-week period. The Senate Republican Campaign Committee, the fundraising apparatus for the GOP efforts to retain the Senate, spent $66,000 on Ranzenhofer's behalf.

The district includes northern Erie County, including much of Tonawanda and Amherst, and Genesee County.

The 61st Senate District race is one of three being closely watched in Albany. Democrats have been hoping Kathy Konst could unseat veteran Republican Sen. Dale Volker in the 59th Senate District, while Dennis Delano is trying to take down Democratic Sen. William Stachowski in the 58th District.


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