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Grisanti eager to establish Falls presence ; Senator-elect looks forward to opening office on Buffalo Ave.

In the days before Mark J. Grisanti is sworn in as a state senator, he's already learning a lesson in the ways of Albany.

Before he can set up a district office on Buffalo Avenue in Niagara Falls, he has to wait for a team from Albany to hook up the phone lines and tag the furniture with little stickers.

The 46-year-old defense attorney is determined to open the doors not long after he takes the oath of office for the 60th State Senate District seat Wednesday.

"Even if you have to get a card table and some chairs in there, that's not going to be an issue," Grisanti said. "It will be open."

Moving the 60th District office in the Falls from a Main Street storefront to cheaper second-story space on Buffalo Avenue near 86th Street is just one in a long line of tasks Grisanti has been addressing since a judge declared his Senate victory over two-term incumbent Antoine M. Thompson.

Official word that the Democrat-turned-Republican had pulled off an upset over Thompson came weeks after Election Day because of a court battle over the ballot-counting process. Grisanti, "cautiously optimistic" that the numbers were going his way, started setting up meetings about 2 1/2 weeks after the general election.

"Everybody who won the election on the 2nd of November, on the 3rd, they're hitting the ground running," said Grisanti, a North Buffalo resident who first challenged Thompson in the 2008 Democratic primary. "And we had to wait almost 35 days for a decision to come down."

Grisanti will take office Wednesday in a heavily Democratic district that covers Buffalo, the City of Tonawanda, Grand Island and Niagara Falls. The Senate seat -- held by now-Mayor Byron W. Brown of Buffalo before Thompson -- has long been dominated by Democrats. So Grisanti's victory on the Republican line -- particularly his strong numbers in the Falls -- came as a surprise for many who follow Western New York politics.

The margin of victory for Grisanti in the 60th District was 525 votes out of 51,000 cast. But in the Falls, Grisanti trounced Thompson, 64 percent to 36 percent. LaSalle and the center city area drew even wider margins for the challenger.

Grisanti, who has said he will caucus with the Republicans, who have retaken the Senate majority, wasted little time in reaching out to Democratic leaders in the Falls. He has spoken with Mayor Paul A. Dyster and met last week with some members of the City Council.

His victory on the Republican line helped push the GOP back into the majority in the Senate, but he is adamant he will remain independent on issues that affect his home district.

"It's very important that people realize that I'm going to Albany as a Western New Yorker to fight for what we need, not as a politician," Grisanti said.

"As I told the Republicans, they had the faith and confidence in me. I'm going to caucus with the Republicans. They're the majority, so I think that'd be the smart thing to do, but I also told them on legislative issues that affect Western New York -- whether it's done by the Republicans or the Democrats -- that's what I'm going to be focusing on."

In the Falls, local Democrats are pledging to work with Grisanti, who had an influx of Republican support during the last few days of the election.

"You have to put that all aside and not worry about what political affiliation you belong to," Council Chairman Sam Fruscione said.

The senator-elect plans to use the expertise of local leaders to help distribute state member items -- grants doled out by state legislators -- that come under his control.

"Who better to know where those funds will be than the individual Council members in each of their districts?" Grisanti said. "To say, 'This place could use some help here.' "

Grisanti has added his voice to the chorus calling for more resources from the New York Power Authority and the Seneca Niagara Casino to be directed to projects in the Falls.

He has spoken to Power Authority CEO Richard M. Kessel and hopes a deal will be finalized that would funnel authority funds to projects in Niagara County. County and Falls leaders have been in talks with Kessel for months over a potential package.

Grisanti also hopes to focus his efforts on helping to boost cargo shipments into and out of Niagara Falls International Airport and to build up tourism in downtown Niagara Falls.

He would like the airport, though technically not located in his district, to pick away cargo business from busy Toronto Pearson International Airport. It's a strategy that has been pursued by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority for years, and Grisanti has met with NFTA acting Chairman Henry M. Sloma to discuss the future of the facility.

Grisanti's focus -- whether at the airport, in downtown tourism or any other project in his district -- is on jobs.

"I can't promise jobs, but what I can promise is the resources for the ability to create jobs," Grisanti said. "And if that means tax breaks for cheaper power or something to attract business here or to work on development projects, then that's what we've got to do."

The cost of rent and heat for the Falls office space Grisanti has leased on Buffalo Avenue is a quarter of what Thompson spent for his storefront district office on Main Street, he said. Grisanti plans to staff his Falls office with a full-timer and an intern.

"You know, my previous opponent, it was nice, he'd have the pancake breakfasts and things along those lines, but that's not bringing jobs here," Grisanti said. "And you need to bring jobs here."

To reach voters, Grisanti said, he plans to conduct quarterly town hall-style meetings by a telephone system that can dial up thousands of constituents at once. Those who want to ask questions can stay on the line and listen.

And then there's his personal cell phone number that he distributed on 17,000 hand cards during the election.

He has no plans to change the phone number, 491-0851.

"The thing I did," Grisanti said, "was change to an unlimited plan."

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com

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