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THE COUNTY LEGISLATURE

Following are our endorsements for election to the Erie County Legislature in Districts 10-17. As with our recommendations for September's primary elections, our endorsements were guided by the candidates' commitment, understanding of the issues, and their determination to move the county forward, especially in terms of how they view their roles in light of the demand for change voters made two years ago in electing Joel Giambra as county executive. Incumbent Michael Ranzenhofer, R-16th District, is running unopposed.

10th District: Kevin R. Hardwick

In one of the most intriguing races, Kevin R. Hardwick, a Republican alderman in the City of Tonawanda, is challenging Charles M. Swanick, an 11-term incumbent and chairman of the Legislature. This is a change worth making.

Swanick is an experienced and intelligent legislator, but he has been a fish out of water since Giambra's election as county executive two years ago. With Giambra having taken control of the county's agenda, Swanick and his Democratic majority have largely been left to react, a status that has led to legislative obstructionism rather than a thoughtful consideration of the administration's proposals. It has been an altogether disappointing performance.

Hardwick, by contrast, cites the record of Tonawanda aldermen working together to advance the city's interests which, he said, includes regionalism, as demonstrated by the Common Council's August vote to close the city's water department and transfer services to the Erie County Water Authority. He identifies the Erie County Medical Center, with its political and financial quagmires, as a "golden" place to start dealing with the county's several difficult issues.

If better county government is the goal, he is the clear choice.

11th District: Lynn Marinelli

Lynn Marinelli is one of the bright lights of the Legislature's Democratic majority, a public official who understands that, as important as party affiliation is, it does not trump the needs of the public. She deserves re-election.

Marinelli, first elected in 1996, describes herself as a "facilitator," noting that she can work with Democrats or Republicans, including Giambra, to advance the county's interests. It's the kind of approach that county government demands, but which is too often absent.

Her opponent is Mark D. Campanella, director of operations and marketing for Just Pizza. He is an enthusiastic political novice, who expresses amazement at the lack of cooperation in county government. A registered Democrat endorsed by the Republican Party, he says he would approach the job not as the representative of either party, but "as a legislator." He backs Giambra's agenda. In another district, he could be a shoo-in, but Marinelli has made a strong case for herself.

12th District: Jeanne Chase

This race is among the closest calls in this year's legislative elections, and while Republican incumbent Jeanne Chase hasn't done a lot to distinguish herself, she has been a steady and competent legislator who supports Giambra's agenda. Given the need to change the direction of county government, a challenger would need to make a strong argument for removing Chase. While Joseph Lafferty would himself make an able legislator, he has not made that case. Chase deserves a third term.

Lafferty, a marketing/account manager for American Homecare Supply, served 5 1/2 years as a Village of Hamburg trustee, acquiring a record of achievement that speaks well of his priorities: upgrading playgrounds, expanding recycling and consolidating police dispatching.

Chase cites accomplishments that include the opening of a well-used satellite office for victims of domestic violence and helping to secure a $59,000 grant to study ways to protect farming in Erie County. As much as anything, though, her value has been in her steady support of Giambra's agenda. Voters should not lightly cast that aside.

13th District: Steven P. McCarville

Steven P. McCarville was appointed to the Legislature in January of this year to replace former minority leader Frederick J. Marshall, who won election as a state Supreme Court justice. Although he is still finding his way as a legislator, McCarville clearly understands the county's challenges - the main issue this year, he says, is nothing less than control of the Legislature - and brings a focused intelligence to bear on them. He deserves election to a full term.

McCarville's Democratic opponent is David J. Shenk, Town of Boston clerk since 1991. He pledges to be a full-time legislator - McCarville is an independent insurance broker - but offers few other concrete reasons to jettison McCarville. While he offers some support for regionalism - backing a single county industrial development agency, for example - he also says the county's pledge of $5 million to help jump start a Buffalo school renovation program, mainly funded by the state, seems like a "bailout." That should be troubling to anyone who believes the region's fortunes are tied to Buffalo's.

14th District: Elise Swiantek Cusack

The primary election in this district was the focus of intense efforts by both parties, and for good reason. Its outcome was likely to influence which party controls the Legislature come January. It retains much the same significance in the general election.

With the enthusiastic support of Giambra, Elise Swiantek Cusack last month wrested the Republican nomination from William A. Pauly, a long-time incumbent who largely votes with the Legislature's Democrats. Whether that outcome represents a turning point in county politics will depend on the results of November's voting, in which Cusack faces not only Democrat George Hasiotis, but Pauly, the man she defeated in September, who is running on minor party lines.

The bottom line in this race is that while Democrat Hasiotis would likely work better with Republicans than the Republican Pauly does, Cusack represents the kind of change the county needs.

Hasiotis, a former board member of the Erie County Water Authority, says he would base his actions as a legislator on the need for reform of the Legislature itself. That's not a bad idea, especially given that Hasiotis lost a bid for a new term on the water authority board because Democrats on the Legislature wanted to put party Chairman G. Steven Pigeon there. They failed, but the need for reform is clear. Cusack, whose election would help tilt the balance of power, would be in a better position to provide it.

15th District: Barry Weinstein

Democrat Maggie Wright is waging a spirited campaign to oust Republican Barry Weinstein from this seat, and while she has many strong qualities as a candidate, Weinstein has proved his worth. He deserves re-election.

Wright is a former assistant dean - for student affairs and later for minority affairs - at the University at Buffalo. She cites open green space for children and quality education among her priorities. She believes Giambra has "some good ideas" and believes she could work with him, but she faults Weinstein, a lawyer and physician, for focusing too much on health issues.

Weinstein does, indeed, bring a professional perspective to health issues, and that is to the county's benefit, especially with Erie County Medical Center hemorrhaging money. But his influence goes far beyond that, including a principled stand against a politically motivated redistricting plan, even though the plan served his personal needs.

17th District: Dale Larson

This is another close call between an incumbent Republican and an impressive Democrat. As in other races where both candidates are qualified and perceptive about the county's needs, we favor the Republican, believing Giambra needs the best chance he can to pursue his agenda.

The race pits incumbent Dale Larson against Democrat Kathy Konst in a replay of the 1999 race. Larson won that race with just 51 percent of the vote. Larson proved his worth earlier this year by successfully leading an effort, along with Giambra and Lancaster Mayor William Cansdale Jr., to have the county water authority take over the village's water system.

Konst, executive director of the Lancaster Area Chamber of Commerce, would bring obvious business skills to the Legislature and she emphasizes the need for a bipartisan approach to county government. But Larson has done an effective job of representing the district and the county as a whole.

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