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Bob McCarthy: South Buffalo grabs the spotlight again

Back in 1992 when a whippersnapper inherited the Politics Column from political writer George Borrelli, local gab centered on the big congressional race between Democrat Dennis Gorski and Republican Jack Quinn.

Open seat. Incumbent county executive vs. incumbent Hamburg supervisor. Strong GOP challenge in a Democratic district. Good stuff for political junkies everywhere.

And when the chatter focused on Quinn’s home turf in South Buffalo, it got really interesting. This was a solid Democratic and crucial slice of the district.

It also presented major questions for both candidates: Would the “D” after Gorski’s name prevail as usual? Or would Quinn’s surname and local connections carry the day in the primarily Irish-American neighborhood?

“There’s no way Republican Quinn will carry South Buffalo,” observed one Irish-American pol back then with roots in the area, who happened to be a Democrat.

But Quinn won 10,016 to 5,484 in South.

Fast forward to other elections where Republicans have fared well in Democratic South Buffalo and its environs. In the 2010 gubernatorial contest, for example, local boy Carl Paladino, a Republican, beat Democrat Andrew Cuomo 5,887 to 2,786 in South.

And in the special election for the South Buffalo-based 145th Assembly in 2012, Democrat Mickey Kearns ran on the Republican and Independence lines against Chris Fahey on Democratic, Conservative and Working Families. Kearns snared this one, too, 2,371 to 1,578.

That’s why the April 24 contest between two Democrats — Pat Burke on the Democratic, Working Families and Reform lines vs. Erik Bohen on Republican, Conservative and Independence — looms as another one to watch. The district extends into the suburbs, but the contest features two sons of South Buffalo.

And it’s getting intense. Now topics like abortion and Paladino are entering the discussion in a major way.

“Legislator Pat Burke is facing a rabidly anti-choice candidate supported by Carl Paladino,” says a new fund raising solicitation for Burke. “Pat knows where women’s health care belongs — between her and her doctor.”

Nevertheless, Burke points to his Catholicism and says he has always been “personally pro-life.” But he said he would vote to “codify” Roe vs. Wade into New York law, part of the “10th point” of the women’s equality agenda sought by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In the view of the agenda’s critics, that includes late-term abortions and an expansion of abortion rights.

“I’m not willing right now to commit to that,” Burke said, when asked about the 10th point. Yet he would allow for late-term abortions to save the life of the mother and says there is “serious danger in going back to pre-Roe vs. Wade.”

Bohen says he is pro-life too, opposes late-term abortions, and would not vote for the 10th point — which could surface in Albany again if the Democrats take over the Senate and breathe new life into the issue.

He also dismisses efforts linking him to Paladino.

“Carl has given me $30,” he said, noting the Republican (who incidentally has won two Board of Education races in South Buffalo) remains a longtime family friend.

More interesting twists and turns enter the race. Bohen is a Buffalo Public Schools teacher and Buffalo Teachers Federation member. His father is business agent for the Ironworkers. But the teachers union a few days ago overwhelmingly supported Burke.

BTF President Phil Rumore said his teachers remain strongly opposed to Paladino, and see Bohen as linked to him.

“A lot of people thought Pat Burke has been there and is doing things,” he said, pointing to Burke’s experience as a county legislator.

A low turnout is expected in next month’s local contest and the 10 others slated across New York State.

But few will offer such compelling politics watching as the 145th Assembly seat. South Buffalo and surrounding areas have shown through history that when the “neighborhood” is involved, anything can happen.

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