Two years after narrowly losing the Democratic primary for the 63rd District State Senate seat, Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Betty Jean Grant on Saturday announced her intention to again run for the seat.
She said she would run a stronger and more focused campaign for the seat against incumbent State Sen. Tim Kennedy.
She spoke before a packed house in the offices of BUILD of Buffalo, a human services agency.
BUILD President Charley Fisher III – who was previously employed as a senior administrative clerk for the Legislature when Grant was its chairwoman – introduced Grant as “magnificent and magnanimous” and “unbroken and unbowed.”
Grant, flanked by her legislative assistant, Karla Thomas, took the microphone to chants of “Betty! Betty! Betty!”
She reminded the crowd that February is Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month.
“It is time we had representation to reflect that,” Grant said. “And when I am elected Sept. 9 to the New York State Senate representing the 63rd District, I will be the first female Democrat to represent and the first African-American to represent this new district.”
The district encompasses parts of the east, west and south sides of Buffalo and also Lackawanna and Cheektowaga.
“If you look at the Billions for Buffalo, that is fine,” Grant said. “I say where are the millions for this community?”
In the crowd at the campaign launch were Bernie Tolbert, former head of the Buffalo FBI office who unsuccessfully opposed Mayor Byron W. Brown in the Democratic primary last year, and Barbara Johnson-Lee, a candidate for Buffalo City Court.
Grant called education, jobs, crime and public safety, and housing rehabilitation her priorities. She spoke in favor of anti-drug education for young people so they avoid the pitfalls of drug use and for parents to take responsibility to prepare their children to learn in school.
“I am going to have a conversation with you to see what is needed; you are going to be part of the process,” Grant said.
The crowd was packed shoulder to shoulder in the small office on Jefferson Avenue and eventually spilled out onto the sidewalk.
Grant said she planned to avoid the problems of the 2012 campaign when, as she told The Buffalo News, she “just ran out of money” to challenge the election results.
In 2012, Kennedy was declared the winner of the race by 139 votes after extended court proceedings before State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Glownia. In that race, Kennedy spent around $400,000 on his campaign, while Grant spent only $20,000.
In 2012, Grant said, “in this same room, with a little crew of 15 people and $20,000, we came within 139 votes of winning. But guess what? Because votes were challenged by either one of the commissioners, 439 votes stayed on the table. Those votes came from the East Side of Buffalo. They came from my base.”
“I did not lose the election,” Grant said. “The election was given to somebody else. That is why this year we are going to have enough money because we are going to start early” with fundraisers and voter registration drives.
She vowed not to conduct a negative campaign, but during the question period, Grant took a few swipes at Kennedy, calling him a “Republicrat” who in 2010 “allied with Republicans to give Chris Collins control of the Democratic-controlled Legislature.”
“On Sept. 9, I expect to be right here, with you here, and I expect you to congratulate me on being elected to the 63rd Senate,” Grant said.
Grant’s comments drew an immediate response from Kennedy, who scoffed at being called a “Republicrat” and took some swipes of his own.
“Betty Jean Grant has committed to taking the endorsement of the Republican coalition that’s leading the Senate,” Kennedy said. “That flies in the face of the Democratic values that she claims to want to uphold.”
“For her to say that I have done anything against the Democratic values that I’m fighting for every single day is categorically untrue,” Kennedy said.
News Staff Reporter Jay Rey contributed to this report. email: email@example.com