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State Senate races Lack of truly competitive contests hampers voter choice on Election Day

The six State Senate races in Western New York continue to produce incumbents matched against fairly weak opponents.

Two of the incumbents face no major-party challenge at all -- Catherine Young is running unopposed in the 57th and in Buffalo's 60th District Antoine M. Thompson faces only an Independence Party challenge from incumbent Marc A. Coppola, whom he defeated in the Democratic primary. Only in one case has the incumbent produced above-average results despite lack of a clear challenge.

Competitive races remain virtually nonexistent in the State Senate. Our evaluations:

>58th District: No endorsement

No endorsement is needed in this race, because there is no active campaign. Democratic incumbent William Stachowski is matched against Republican Joseph Mesler, but the Republican Party has failed to mount an active challenge.

Stachowski's ability to legislate is, by definition, weakened by the fact that he is a Democrat in the Republican-controlled Senate. However, he has held the seat since 1981 and has, in the past, defended the broken system that is the State Legislature.

Stachowski does take credit for some worthwhile legislative housing initiatives. One is the statewide demolition bill, crafted with outgoing Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz, that allows municipalities to bond for demolition for privately owned structures considered health and safety hazards. Another bill allows the city to rehabilitate properties. He also points to a measure, developed with Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, that allows tax credits to encourage redevelopment of multiple dwelling houses into one- or two-family houses. Stachowski and Hoyt are co-chairmen of the mayor's anti-flipping task force, which started under the Masiello administration.

Stachowski will have had 25 years in the Senate this fall, ranking him second in seniority among all Senate Democrats and first among upstate Democrats.

>59th District: Dale M. Volker

Volker is a strong champion of the status quo in Albany, a major mark against him, but he also is universally recognized as a strong champion not only of his own district but of Buffalo. With reservations based on the newspaper's continued call for change in the way state government works, we endorse his bid for re-election.

As a senior senator near the top of a currently Republican body, Volker simply remains in a better position to help an area that desperately needs more help. He argues the Senate has already initiated some reforms, and that he was a key player.

His failure to see how unrepresentative state government has become is troubling, but there is a good chance that change will be forced upon the Legislature during the next gubernatorial term.

Voters do have a reasonable choice. Volker's Democratic opponent, Tom Casey, is a thoughtful although not smoothly articulate Erie County environmental engineer and education advocate who focuses on a business background that taught him the value of enterprise.

He backs reforms to the Taylor Law and the Triborough Amendment, term limits for members, reducing the cost of government and independent redistricting.

>61st District: Mary Lou Rath

Republican Mary Lou Rath has held this office since 1993, and should be re-elected. In this campaign she has focused on Medicaid reform, which she has worked on her entire time in public office. She points to the Legislature's action in capping county contributions to Medicaid as a historic first step in controlling costs for local governments.

Rath also has proposed bills reforming the state Taylor Law. She wants measures to ensure municipalities have the ability to pay, and also backs a study commission on the Taylor Law. So far, the bills have languished.

Rath understands the need to return dollars, programs and policies to the community. More recently, her continued efforts to change the Thruway toll system in this area are bearing fruit.

Her opponent, Richard Woll, is an intelligent, well-intentioned attorney who basically is running on the concept that Rath needs replacing. He would need to focus far more on key issues affecting the state. His tenure would involve a period of growth in that regard that this area may not be able to afford.

>62nd District: George D. Maziarz

Niagara County's Sen. George Maziarz, the Republican incumbent, is one of this region's most effective legislators. He deserves re-election.

Maziarz is energetic, passionate and forthright, and has played a major role in development efforts at the Niagara Falls International Airport, which he believes has great potential as a cargo hub. He worked to get a significant share of casino-revenue dollars for the airport. He also takes credit for Calspan's developing presence at the airport and remains focused on the challenges at Delphi, which closed 21 out of 29 plants -- but, after work by Maziarz and a discount hydropower allocation approved by the governor, kept both of its plants in his district.

The Democrats have failed to mount a credible challenge in this race. Maziarz's opponent is Christopher Srock, 26, who has been running a very low-key campaign.

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Endorsements are intended to aid voters in their own evaluations of those seeking office. Whether you agree or disagree with our recommendations, we urge you to vote and take part in our democratic process.

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