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Newcomer challenges Quinn for Assembly

Political newcomer Leonard Kowalski is in his first race for elected office. His opponent is an incumbent who enjoys strong name recognition and a much-better-funded campaign.

So how does Kowalski expect to take on the second-generation politician who holds the 146th District Assembly seat?

"I've worked hard for everything I ever got in my life," said the Democratic challenger.

Facing Republican Jack F. Quinn III, the son of a popular ex-congressman, Kowalski has his work cut out for him.

Lacking funds for a TV blitz, Kowalski is going to Southtowns events and door-to-door to get his message of reform to constituents.

"He has taken on a Herculean task, but he's doing it well," Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan said.

"But in an uphill race, it's tough to get people to invest in it," he added.

The Democratic organization hasn't given its candidate for the Southtowns seat a serious push, at least not so far. Kowalski has received $250 from the Lackawanna Democratic Committee, his total from party sources.

In a pre-election filing, Kowalski's campaign reported $19.97 in the till, having raised $2,378 and spent almost all of it. By contrast, Quinn reported $24,246 on hand. "The only thing I can do is go out there and stay positive," Kowalski said.

While both candidates are 30-year-old graduates of the University at Buffalo, Kowalski emphasizes his differences with the incumbent. A civil engineer and the son of a former Bethlehem Steel employee, Kowalski said he worked as a loader at UPS while studying at UB after graduating from Lackawanna High School.

This up-by-the-bootstraps background, he said, gives him a different perspective than the law school graduate and congressman's son he faces -- a background he hopes that voters can more readily identify with.

Party registration rolls would seem to give Kowalski another advantage. There are 37,506 registered Democrats in the district, or 40 percent of voters. Republicans, with 29,184 registered, are 32 percent.

Quinn, however, isn't relying on the Republican line alone. He's also running as the candidate of the Conservative, Independence and Working Families parties.

Quinn hopes that Democratic voters can set party affiliation aside and judge him on his record.

Like his father, Quinn III has put together support that crosses party boundaries. Among his endorsements are those from the Buffalo Building Trades and Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000, the public employees' union, as well as the small-business lobby group.

In the Assembly, Quinn has championed building the economy by encouraging young families and graduates of the state's many top-tier colleges to remain here. With others in the Assembly, he is pushing a legislative package that would aim tax incentives at young graduates and the companies that hire them.

Kowalski's No. 1 item is reform of the legislative process. He supports putting an independent entity in charge of drawing election districts, freeing the process from political manipulation.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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