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Vote cost Grisanti party line; Kennedy won't seek Conservative nod

State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy recently announced he would not seek the Conservative Party endorsement that gave him his crucial margin of victory in 2010.

The Buffalo Democrat said he wanted to spare the Conservatives the "touchy situation" of having to consider backing him again in light of his 2011 vote to legalize same-sex marriage, which the party staunchly opposes.

But in an interview just nine days earlier, Ralph C. Lorigo, the Erie County Conservative Party chairman, spoke highly of Kennedy and showed no sign of abandoning him, despite his vote.

In contrast, Lorigo spoke angrily of Sen. Mark Grisanti, because the Buffalo Republican voted to legalize gay marriage, so the party refuses to endorse him.

In a close election in 2010 against incumbent Antoine Thompson, Conservative line voters cast enough ballots for Grisanti to make a difference.

Lorigo, his fist often striking his conference table, said he and his party felt betrayed that Grisanti said one thing about gay marriage, then voted the other way.

Kennedy had committed no such offense, Lorigo said.

The candidate's withdrawal from the Conservative sweepstakes blunts potential criticism that the Conservative Party took opposing stands on senators who cast the same vote. Political managers with an eye on the Senate races add that the Conservatives are unlikely to endorse any of the rumored Kennedy challengers.

>The News: Let me compare Kennedy with Grisanti. Kennedy voted for gay marriage. The Conservative Party advocates for the collection of sales taxes on Native American lands. Kennedy is not for that. I think you were against the county's apprentice-training law. Kennedy was the champion of that. On the state Conservative Party's ranking of state senators last year, Grisanti actually scored higher than Kennedy.

Lorigo: What did he get?

>News: He had 52

Lorigo: And Kennedy scored 48.

>News: Forty-eight. That's four points.

Lorigo: Look at the difference between those people.

>News: I'm trying to find the difference

Lorigo: Look at most Democrats, where they lie. Kennedy has 48 percent. Very close to Grisanti. I would argue there isn't a great deal of difference between the 48 and the 52 percent. Now that puts them in a similar category, arguably, right?

But here's the difference. Grisanti came to us and told us something, and then did the actual opposite. How can you think that as a politician in a representative democracy you can go before an endorsement board, say this is the way I believe, this is the way I will vote, and five months later do the opposite and think you are going to get re-endorsed?

>News: Well, let me ask you this: If he had said "I am for gay marriage," would you have endorsed him?

Lorigo: I don't know. First of all, do you know how many times I get to vote? Never. I only get to vote in the event of a tie. OK? So it's never happened in 17 years, actually.

The way it worked is this. Kennedy was the most difficult endorsement of my 17 years as being a chairman. That was a three-person race. And there were plenty of people who were for Jack Quinn, plenty of people who were for [William] Stachowski, who had our endorsement all those years. Kennedy outworked those people.

>News: Outworked them going door to door? Campaigning? Or lobbying your members?

Lorigo: With lobbying my members. That's what he did.

My argument, actually, that year was, why don't we do an open primary on our line? Let everybody prove how conservative they are. Let's take the premier race of the entire state and put it on the Conservative Primary line. I tried to sell that.

When it came for the vote, it was a very split vote, and Kennedy won the endorsement. Look, he is a very hard-working, energetic guy that is 100 percent pro-life.

And he is a Second Amendment guy.

In terms of working across the aisle, he certainly showed that he would do that when he was at the County Legislature, working across the aisle and building consensus with people. He put forth a lot of good values and character to people.

>News: So he won it narrowly?

Lorigo: Yes. But he won it. And I don't back off of it.

I don't agree at all with Tim Kennedy on the gay marriage bill. Not that I am against homosexuals or gay people -- I'm not. I would have greatly preferred the Republican Senate to take the lead and go out there first with civil unions. Everybody wants to argue the equality argument. I am for equality. I don't think lesser of anybody.

I do believe that marriage, though, across every culture from the beginning of time to now, has been defined as between a man and a woman. And I don't think you need to end that to give people equality.

>News: If I can get back to Grisanti versus Kennedy, the big difference I am hearing from you is that Grisanti told you one thing and voted another way. Does it go beyond that?

Lorigo: Yeah, there were some other issues. But it is very difficult, and I told Mark this -- you know I thought a lot of Mark at the beginning of all of this, I thought he had a lot of opportunity -- it's very difficult to come to a political board like mine, that works on a voluntary basis, that contributes the amount of time that these people do and then lie to them. You are not going to have credibility. And Mark lost his credibility with our people.

>News: Do you think he lied to them or he changed his mind?

Lorigo: Lying is a tough word, you are right. Here's what I do think: The issue was crystallized when he came to us. Everybody knew what that issue was. "Are you for traditional marriage?" "Absolutely." "Would you vote for gay marriage?" "No."

Now you tell me, you let your readers interpret, when someone tells you that, and then four or five months later votes the other way, did he have a change of heart?

He told me he did a lot of soul-searching, and he came to the other conclusion.

I told him, if that's the case, Mark you vote the way you promised your constituents. This is a representative democracy. You vote the way you committed, you tell them you had a change of heart. If they send you back, you do what you need to do.

>News: Well, that's a fine argument.

Lorigo: And that's what he should have done. So there was the problem with Mark Grisanti.

>News: So I take it that when you asked Tim Kennedy, he did say, I am going to vote for the gay marriage bill.

Lorigo: You know, the truth is, that question didn't come up with Tim Kennedy.