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Konst stands tall amid the storm

All she wants to do is run for State Senate. She thinks she has something to offer to an upstate that is bleeding jobs, to a state that is peering into a vast budget hole.

She has nice credentials. More than anyone on the County Legislature, she carves her own path, unguided by the Democratic Party boss. She pushed to cut the size of the legislature, refused to rubber-stamp the party boss' Water Authority picks and voted to cut costs on construction projects.

Kathy Konst is one of the few who, in midlife, left a real job to get into politics. She was head of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce when she won a seat on the County Legislature. She came in as part of the reform movement, in wake of the red/green budget fiasco.

"I didn't get into politics because I needed a job," said Konst, 51. "I just thought that somebody has to do something to change things."

All of which prompted her run for the State Senate. She is taking on Dale Volker, 68, an Albany institution who has seemingly been there as long as the Capitol steps. The race ought to be a classic clash of issues between a pro-business reformer and a career politician with a 36-year record -- and recent erratic behavior -- to defend. Instead, it has devolved into a case study in what politicians term "opposition research." The rest of us call it "digging for dirt."

Konst -- slight, dark-haired, realtor-friendly -- has run headlong into a thresher of low-ball political tactics. It is the reason why most reasonable people do not jump into the political swamp. It is still a month until Election Day, yet she already feels neck-deep in muck.

"I'm not used to dealing with all of this garbage," Konst said. "I never expected it to sink to this level."

In the past week, Team Volker used an arcane law to jettison petition signatures and deny Konst -- despite voter intentions -- of a key minor-party line in the November election. They followed with accusations that Konst 10 years ago voted here and in Florida, where she says she had not lived since 1992.

Despite some documentation, there is no record of her signature and there is no apparent reason why she would fly there and back in a day to cast an inconsequential vote. She termed it "absurd" and chalked it up to a clerical mistake or a political dirty trick.

Then Volker's people uncovered a business bankruptcy filing by Konst's husband in 2003 that listed addresses in Lancaster and Florida, where the attorney handling the case for her husband, his brother, was living. The papers were offered to lend credence, perhaps, to the accusation that she voted in two places at once. I'm unconvinced. I've seen the bankruptcy paperwork. It has no bearing on the Senate race.

"No one was trying to hide anything," said Konst, voice rising in exasperation. "Volker's people are searching for things to throw at me to distract voters from the real issues."

On balance, I am inclined to believe her. Konst always struck me, in character and principle, as a cut above the average politician. She is a bit politically naive, and now has the bruises to show for it.

There is a bigger picture. In taking on Volker, I do not think Konst knew what she was getting into. Republicans are desperately clinging to a one-seat majority in the State Senate. Volker's seat is a cornerstone of the Republicans' line of defense, and the party is pouring money into his campaign. Volker's foe in the recent Republican primary said the race was marked with threats and intimidation.

"This is how [Volker's people] play," said Dave DiPietro, the ex-East Aurora mayor. "Running against him was a nasty, eye-opening experience."

Now it is Konst's turn. She thought she was running on the issues. Each stride takes her deeper into the muck.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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