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ASSEMBLY ENDORSEMENTS <br> ONCE AGAIN, SYSTEM WORKS TO KEEP VIABLE OPPONENTS FROM CHALLENGING

Here are The Buffalo News endorsements for the Assembly in districts 141, 142, 143, 144 and 145. Endorsements for Assembly races in districts 138, 140, 146, 149 and 150 were published Monday. The News considers only races contested by major party candidates.

141st District: Crystal Peoples

Crystal Peoples is completing her first term as a state assemblywoman, succeeding Arthur Eve in this Buffalo district. She has done little to distinguish herself over the past two years -- not untypical for a new member -- but has at least cosponsored a recently announced effort to rewrite Assembly rules that diminish the influence and accountability of rank-and-file members. We endorse her based upon that action and the fact that she is facing a weak opponent in Gayla Thompson, who is not campaigning actively.

Peoples is weak in at least one area crucial to New Yorkers: Her support for Medicaid reform centers on getting more money from Washington and preventing wealthier residents from shielding their assets to qualify for the program. Both, especially the latter, are worth doing, but this state runs the state's most generous Medicaid program and demands that counties pay half the nonfederal share. Without those reforms in those areas, upstate New Yorkers will continue to pay a steep price in spiraling county property taxes and a shrinking population to pay them.

She says she has come to support the Buffalo control board after initially opposing it, but does not back a merged city-county government. Instead, she wants Washington to send money to support the city. But the federal deficit is at a historic high, and neither this administration nor this Congress is going to send federal tax dollars to a city that has run itself so poorly for so long. It's a fantasy. A well-informed Assemblywoman should understand that.

If Peoples sticks to her guns and demands reform in her chamber, she will go a long way toward earning a third term in 2006.

142nd District: Sandra Lee Wirth

Incumbent Republican Sandra Lee Wirth may be a tad eccentric -- in conversation, she refers to herself as "Sandra Lee" -- but she is as angry as a hive of hornets about the way the Assembly is run. That is just the kind of representative taxpayers need in Albany, and with no other disqualifying issue in her record, there is simply no point replacing her with a Democrat who would only pad the party's majority, and bring some unhealthy ideas along with him.

To be sure, the Democrats are running a credible candidate. Jeffrey Bono III was active in town politics when he lived in Pasadena, Calif., and was campaign manager for Daniel Ward's 2003 run against Erie County Executive Joel Giambra.

Bono acknowledges that Assembly leadership is "not effective," but he favors a payroll tax to fund Medicaid, opposes the Buffalo control board and supports the unions to the point that he would rather keep schools closed after hours than challenge union rules. He says too much money is going downstate, ignoring the fact that taxes paid in New York City have kept upstate afloat for years. Without the money churned up on Wall Street in the 1990s, Buffalo would have had a control board years early. Bono doesn't seem to recognize that.

With the issues facing Buffalo and New York, Wirth is by far the better bet.

143rd District: Paul Tokasz

Paul Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga, is the Assembly's No. 2 Democrat, and therefore a valuable member of the region's delegation to Albany. Despite our reservations about his commitment to reform, we endorse him for re-election.

His Republican opponent, Daniel Gutkowski, is a former convenience store owner who now works at Elmer Bender & Son, a Buffalo meat wholesaler. This is his first run for office, and his campaign is animated by his frustration over Albany's incompetence. He understands many of the problems besetting state government, but with no previous political experience, he is plainly in over his head.

In some ways, Tokasz's ascension to the position of Assembly majority leader, second in the chamber to Speaker Sheldon Silver, has been only a potential advantage to Western New Yorkers. It's not as though money or opportunity has poured into the region as a result.

What is more, the leadership post he has held for nearly four years puts Tokasz in the impossible position of serving two masters: his constituents in the 143rd Assembly district, and Silver, the Manhattan representative whose allegiance is to a downstate view of state government that can be summed up by the phrase "more is better."

Still, it's not even a close race. Tokasz is the better bet, but voters should take him at his word when he acknowledges that his responsibility for fixing a disastrous state government has increased commensurately with the power he holds as Assembly majority leader. He needs to be prepared in two years to show significant, useful progress in repairing a system that is demonstrably broken.

144th District: Sam Hoyt

Sam Hoyt can point to real accomplishments as an assemblyman, but his commitment to reform is best characterized by his 2000 reversal during the effort to topple Sheldon Silver as Assembly speaker. What credit he earned for joining the insurgents was partially squandered by returning to the speaker's side when it appeared that Silver had gained the upper hand.

Nevertheless, in fairness to Hoyt, he has devoted himself to the effort to save Buffalo's historic but long-neglected Richardson Towers, he worked to preserve Women's and Children's Hospital when Kaleida was talking about closing it and, rare among Democrats, he has been willing to buck the public sector unions. All are significant marks in his favor.

His Republican opponent is David Penna, a former private investigator now on medical leave from USAirways. He was initially reluctant to run, but now says he is enthusiastic about the challenges he sees, including the need to for a "Taxpayers Bill of Rights" (www.nytabor.com), reforming the state's economically ruinous liability laws, and fixing Medicaid by bringing benefits in line with the national average and requiring Albany to pick up the share of costs it now foists onto the state's county taxpayers.

Penna is a credible candidate whom we would endorse but for the significant achievements Hoyt has tucked under his belt. Hoyt also is a primary cosponsor of an Assembly reform bill, but given his hasty retreat from battle in 2000, he needs to provide solid evidence that he intends to fight hard for taking some power away from the leadership so the rank-and-file have a substantial say in how this state is governed.

Hoyt may be among the best of a mediocre lot of state legislators. That still doesn't help Western New York or the state avoid the consequences of a dysfunctional Legislature or the harm it has done -- unfunded mandates, regulations that prevent efficient governing and a Medicaid burden that's going to result in a large property-tax increase for Erie County residents next year.

If Hoyt wins by less than the overwhelming majority that incumbents normally rack up, perhaps he'll get that message.

145th District: Mark Schroeder

In the race to succeed Brian Higgins, who is leaving this seat in a bid for Congress, we endorse Democrat Mark Schroeder without hesitation. In two terms as Erie County's District 2 legislator, Schroeder has built a solid record of achievement.

While many public officials focus on grand schemes, Schroeder, like the legislator he would replace, has concentrated on ground-level projects that make a day-to-day difference in the quality of life. He has worked to improve the appearance of Seneca Street, the heart of his district; helped to create the South Buffalo Education Center, which helps provide residents with educational resources; and established the Greater South Buffalo Chamber of Commerce.

What is more, he is running as an angry Democrat, determined to hold his own party's leadership accountable for the Albany disaster. You could hardly ask for more in an Assembly candidate.

Schroeder's opponent is Richard Rydza, the Republican who ran for the seat against Higgins two years ago. We endorsed Higgins then partly on the strength of his own record, and partly because the newcomer Rydza lacked the political experience this job needs. Then, we observed that Rydza would do well to serve in local office before attempting this kind of race. This year, we repeat the observation.

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