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State Senate choices Ranzenhofer for the open seat, incumbents get edge for the rest

Winners in this year's State Senate races will face the same principal issues that their counterparts in the Assembly will face almost from the moment they arrive in Albany.

We have focused on nine categories, and while the list is hardly exhaustive, it focuses on issues that are critical to the looming painful budget season and to the scope of the two-year session that begins in January. The issues:

* Experience: Generally speaking, it is better to know how government works.

* Taxes: Lawmakers must resist intense pressure to raise taxes in the nation's highest taxed state.

* Spending: All areas must be subject to potentially significant cuts.

* Member items: The practice system, which bolsters incumbents, has become too expensive. It needs to be ended.

* Unfunded mandates: Albany has to pay the costs if it is going to foist requirements on lower governments.

* Redistricting: Gerrymandered districts discourage competitive elections and prolong the state's decline. The job must be done by an independent, nonpartisan committee.

* Budget process reform: Rank-and-file lawmakers need to be more involved in the budget process, which, itself requires more time. The State Comptroller should determine the amount of money available to be spent.

* Ethics reform: Legislators now investigate themselves. Authority needs to be given to an independent body.

* District issues/specific goals: This category allows candidates to show their knowledge of state and local needs.

For a look at candidate positions and our evaluations in each race, visit our Web page. Here are our endorsements:

57th District: Catharine M. Young. Catharine M. Young has represented this district well since winning a special election in 2005. While we wish she was more interested in ending the system of member items and in adopting independent redistricting, she has a firm grasp on the need to reduce the costs of government and restrain growth in taxes.
58th District: William T. Stachowski. For years, William T. Stachowski has been a senator with a public profile that verged on invisibility. A Democrat in the Republican-controlled Senate, Stachowski had what appeared to be a safe seat and not a lot to do in a Legislature that muzzles members of the minority party.

But Stachowski has been energized this year by the prospect of a potential Democratic takeover of the Senate and by surprisingly strong opposition from Dennis A. Delano.
Although he has led in the polls, Delano is coasting only on name recognition and his reputation as the cop who helped free Anthony Capozzi from 25 years of wrongful imprisonment. He has said virtually nothing substantive about what he would seek to accomplish as a state senator, and has avoided discussion of issues. Voters deserve better.
Stachowski is vague about where to cut spending, but says he wants to avoid increasing taxes next year in what will be a historically difficult budget season. He backs the UB 2020 plan and could become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, if the Democrats control the chamber. That's important to this region.
59th District: Dale M. Volker. This is a close a call as we faced this year. Republican Volker is a senior member of the Senate, and while that hasn't translated into a lot of benefit for the region, he is a stabilizing force for people who -- like us -- are concerned about Democrats controlling both legislative chambers.
Nevertheless, Democratic challenger Kathy Konst has clearer and stronger ideas about the needs of voters. She has shown herself to be a tough, independent member of the Erie County Legislature and would, no doubt, bring the same qualities to the Senate. In addition, Volker is often defensive about the Legislature's obvious dysfunction.
What tilts us toward him is both the regional need for seniority if the Senate remains Republican and Konst's inadequate response to charges that she voted both here and in Florida in 1998. She claims, plausibly enough, that she had no reason to vote twice, but records do suggest otherwise and her claim that she did not know her husband had declared bankruptcy in Florida in 2003 is troubling.
61st District: Michael H. Ranzenhofer. Erie County Legislator Michael H. Ranzenhofer is the easy endorsement in this race to succeed the retiring Mary Lou Rath. Republican Ranzenhofer is well informed about the issues and understands the challenges facing residents of the nation's highest-taxed state.
The Democrat in this race is boxer-turned-politician Joe Mesi, an instantly likable man who, despite his best efforts and good coaching, is out of his element at this point in his political development.
62nd District: George D. Maziarz. George D. Maziarz has represented this district ably since 1995. He has creative ideas for cutting spending over the long term, including eliminating the State Liquor Authority and pushing school districts to consolidate. He opposes tax increases to fill next year's cavernous budget gap.
In the 60th District, incumbent Sen. Antoine Thompson is unopposed.

Endorsements by The News editorial board are intended to aid voters in their own evaluations of those seeking office. Whether or not you agree with our recommendations, we urge you to vote and take part in our democratic process.

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