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Mesi, Ranzenhofer vie in $2 million race State Senate contest lures special interests

The eyes of the state are on the 61st Senate District, and some of those eyes have deep, deep pockets.

With the election only nine days away, the race between Joe Mesi, a Town of Tonawanda Democrat, and Michael H. Ranzenhofer, an Amherst Republican, is shaping up as a $2 million contest.

The campaign, one of the state's battleground races, is being fueled largely by the two major parties and special interests from outside Western New York.

Senate Republicans, eager to keep their slim majority, are the big givers with a half-million-dollar stake in Ranzenhofer's campaign.

"Ranzenhofer is being bankrolled by Senate Republicans, and they're being bankrolled by the same Wall Street firms who caused the country's fiscal crisis," said Emma Wolfe, Mesi spokeswoman.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, gave $410,000 to Mesi.

"Joe Mesi's comments are laughable," said Molly Fitzpatrick, Ranzenhofer's spokeswoman. "What Mesi needs to address are the serious allegations brought by local election authorities."

The Mesi-Ranzenhofer race is not the only high-profile State Senate contest bringing in big bucks.

The race between William T. Stachowski, the incumbent Lake View Democrat, and Dennis A. Delano, a Cheektowaga Republican, easily will shatter the $1 million mark, not as rich as Mesi and Ranzenhofer but still big by local standards.

On Saturday, Stachowski accused Delano of relying on New York City and Long Island interests for 90 percent of his contributions.

"Delano is more beholden to Long Island and NYC interests than virtually any other candidate for office this year," Stachowski said in a statement.

His campaign provided an analysis suggesting donations from Delano's 144 contributors average $3,022, more than three times the $961 average for Stachowski's supporters.

Stachowski also singled out a Delano downstate donor -- he identified him as Leonard Litwin, one of Forbes Magazine's 400 richest people -- who gave a total of $28,500 through several sources.

"Supersized donations to Delano and the GOP are a great big thank-you for their willingness to carry the water for Long Island and Wall Street," Stachowski said.

Delano acknowledged the large number of contributions from downstate but said they were necessary given Stachowski's fundraising advantages as an incumbent.

"I don't have the luxury of taxpayer-financed newsletters, so I have to get help where I can," he said.

The Republican also dismissed Stachowski's allegations that he would be a patsy for downstate interests.

"That's just part of the political game," he said of his opponents' charges. "I don't owe anybody anything."

Stachowski has a slight edge over Delano in fundraising, according to campaign disclosure reports filed Friday with the State Board of Elections.

Stachowski has raised about $474,000, according to the reports, while Delano has raised about $434,000.

Just a few miles away, in the 61st Senate district, candidates are raising money at nearly twice that rate.

As of Friday, Ranzenhofer had raised about $900,000 and still had $329,000 left in his treasury.

Mesi, by comparison, had raised $717,000 and had $196,000 left in the bank.

By Election Day, both men easily could spend $1 million apiece.

Ranzenhofer wouldn't comment on Mesi's allegations linking him to Wall Street's fiscal crisis. He chose instead to repeat his own charges of election illegalities by Mesi and billionaire backer B. Thomas Golisano.

Erie County's Republican elections commissioner alleges that, to circumvent state election law, Golisano's advisers laundered money that went to Mesi and others.

Golisano, owner of the Buffalo Sabres, denied those charges Friday and said the calls for a criminal investigation are "politically motivated."

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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