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CANDIDATES VIE TO FILL PEOPLES' LEGISLATURE SEAT

With County Legislator Crystal Peoples moving up to the Assembly, candidates to fill the soon-to-be-vacant Legislature spot have started trying out her seat cushion.

Because Peoples will represent the 141st District in January -- one of the few predominantly minority districts at the county level -- her position represents a high-profile opportunity for the area's established African-American leadership as well as young, up-and-coming political insiders.

Four Democrats have floated their names for appointment consideration, and one Republican is already looking to challenge the Democratic appointee during next year's general elections.

The Democratic Party is expected to officially nominate someone to finish out the remainder of Peoples' term in the next few weeks.

Demone Smith, senior legislative aide to Masten Council Member Antoine Thompson, is considered by many to be an early front-runner.

Smith, 29, has begun heavy campaigning for the Legislature seat, meeting with Democratic leaders and gaining support from Grassroots, an African-American political organization.

"I'm definitely interested," he said, naming economic development, health care and community infrastructure repair as key issues.

A 1996 graduate of Wilberforce University in Ohio, with a bachelor's degree in political science, Smith was an aide to former Masten Council Member Byron Brown and continued to work under Thompson, who assumed the seat after Brown was elected to the State Senate.

An experienced challenger to Smith would be Charley H. Fisher III, an at-large Council member whose seat is being eliminated because of Council downsizing.

Fisher, 48, has served as a Council member since 1999 and has taken on numerous high-profile issues as a community advocate. He ran unsuccessfully against Peoples for the Assembly seat in this year's Democratic primary.

Fisher is looking at both the Legislature seat and the Fillmore Council seat and has not yet committed to seeking one position or the other.

"I am considering it," he said of the Legislature seat. "I don't have the comfort of waiting a long time in making that decision."

The Rev. Robert Baines, pastor of Zion Missionary Baptist Church, is firmer in his expressed interest in the seat.

A longtime community leader and head of Zion Baptist for 32 years, he had previously run against Peoples for the Legislature seat, and also failed in a campaign for the Masten Council seat against Brown.

"I never lost interest in county politics," he said, "so I think I could bring a lot to the table in terms of just bringing unity to the community."

Finally, Kenny J. Williams, a Buffalo firefighter, Fire Department chaplain and church minister, has been named as a potential candidate.

He had previously run unsuccessfully against Thompson and Brown for the Masten Council seat.

Williams, 42, could not be reached to comment. He has previously advocated for senior citizens, education and jobs.

Party Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan said the party hopes to recommend a successor by Dec. 12, the Legislature's last meeting of the year.

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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