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Ask Republican Nancy A. Naples about her most important endorsements, and she rattles off some of the top business groups in the nation.

Ask Democrat Brian M. Higgins, and he points to a list of 38 national and area unions backing his effort.

As the race for the 27th Congressional District seat draws to a close, business organizations backing Naples and unions standing with Higgins underscore a classic Republican-Democrat confrontation for the seat of retiring Rep. Jack F. Quinn Jr., one of Washington's most pro-labor Republicans.

Both candidates say they are embracing not only a way to win Tuesday's election, but also a way to promote job growth in southern Erie and Chautauqua counties.

And after Naples received a huge boost this week with backing from the area's most influential business group -- the Buffalo Niagara Partnership -- Higgins said his union support more accurately reflects the district's "blue-collar, middle-class" nature.

"It draws a distinction between the two candidates," he said of their disparate endorsements. "My theme is fighting for the forgotten middle class. The Republican is the candidate of big business."

But Naples emphasizes that the business community's backing is paramount in a community begging for economic development. Partnership President Andrew J. Rudnick said Naples' private sector experience, independence as county comptroller, and views on tax cuts earned the group's endorsement.

"Nancy understands the importance of tax cuts to small businesses and how lowering the top rate helps foster economic investment," Rudnick said.

The candidate, meanwhile, says business and labor support are not incompatible. She said Quinn lacked substantial union backing in his first run in 1992, earning it later. She hopes to gain that same support, but also views small-business growth as a mutual goal for both business and labor.

"For the problems we face in Western New York -- economic problems -- it's extremely important to have the backing of people trying to keep and create jobs," she said.

Higgins said most congressional districts average 30,000 union members, while the 27th counts 78,000. He says Naples' Partnership endorsement along with other business groups like the National Federation of Independent Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce show she will not be a pro-labor member of Congress in the Quinn vein.

"Nancy continues her incessant references to Jack Quinn, but this is just another example of how she's not like him," Higgins said.

John J. Kaczorowski, president of the Buffalo AFL-CIO, said Higgins' support for core union principles like hiking the minimum wage earned his group's nod.

"He's for senior citizens, prescription drug coverage, hiking the minimum wage -- everything that affects working people," Kaczorowski said.

Will this backing, which translates into financial and organizational support, cause problems for either candidate maintaining independence?

Higgins said his push for police consolidation as a member of the Common Council made for some "frosty relations" with the Police Benevolent Association, and that he failed to gain the Buffalo firefighters' support this year.

"I've demonstrated an independence that's evidenced by my public record," he said.

Naples said her business backing will not deter her from building better relations with organized labor.

"I believe my goals are aligned with business," she said. "But if our goal is to boost the economy by creating jobs, it's not like (either business or labor) will be asking for anything contrary to that goal."


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