Voters in the South District handed a Democratic primary victory to challenger Michael P. Kearns on Tuesday.
With all voting districts reporting, Kearns beat incumbent Jeffrey M. Conrad by a tally of 2,091 to 1,562.
The special election filled the unexpired term of James D. Griffin, who resigned earlier this year. Conrad had been appointed to the seat and was endorsed by Democrats in the district.
He also was endorsed by numerous elected leaders, including Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo, for whom he had worked as an aide while Higgins was an assemblyman. Conrad was also backed by Goin' South, a powerful political group.
But Kearns said late Tuesday he believed the victory stemmed from the voters being given a voice.
"They didn't get a chance to speak when the appointment was made," Kearns said. "This is not only my victory, but one for the people of South Buffalo."
Both contestants had waged a civil campaign in a part of the city that is normally used to rough and tumble politics. That same spirit prevailed Tuesday.
"I really want to congratulate my opponent," Kearns said. "He ran a good campaign; a clean campaign, one that was positive. He's a class act with a bright future in politics."
Kearns must still face Republican Michael W. Hart Jr. in November. Conrad will run in November as the candidate of the Independence, Conservative and Working Families parties.
Kearns, 36, is vice president of Kearns & Associates, which helps nonprofits raise money. He spent two years as a legislative aide to Dennis Manley, a former South Council member who, like Griffin, endorsed his candidacy.
Kearns received degrees in political science and criminal justice from Canisius College and took paralegal courses at Erie Community College.