Democratic leaders from across the 26th Congressional District unanimously agreed Saturday on Kathleen C. Hochul as the party's candidate in the May 24 special election to fill the vacancy resulting from the resignation of Chris Lee, a Republican.
Meeting in Geneseo, party leaders interviewed Hochul and six others who applied for the endorsement. But as expected, said Leonard R. Lenihan, chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party, the county clerk won the hands-down support of party officials from throughout the seven-county district.
"She made a magnificent presentation focusing on meeting the needs of working people, building businesses and creating jobs," Lenihan said. "All the candidates made good, strong presentations. But Kathy stood out in her experience and intelligence."
Party leaders also interviewed Amherst Council Member Mark A. Manna; Martin Minimier, a corrections officer from Monroe County; Satish B. Mohan, former Amherst supervisor; Robert Stall, a North Buffalo gerontologist; Diana L. Voit, a registered nurse from West Seneca; and Jane Bauch, an Orleans County businesswoman.
Lenihan hinted at what could be a recurring theme of the upcoming campaign against the Republican candidate: Jane L. Corwin, a Clarence assemblywoman promising to self-finance her race.
"This will be Main Street versus Wall Street," Lenihan said, "and Kathy is already walking down Main Street."
Hochul said she will run on her record as Erie County clerk, which she said centered on fighting waste, holding down taxes and creating jobs. She said she has learned from her mother -- a small-business woman -- and her father -- a pioneering executive of Computer Task Group Inc. -- about the importance of a strong private sector that creates jobs.
"Business is the backbone of our economy, and what will be the backbone of our campaign will be business," she said. "I'm running because there are too many politicians in Washington and Albany not doing anything about [assisting business]."
Republicans were quick to attack Hochul, pointing out she lives in Hamburg, outside the district, and labeling her a "career politician" for the second time in two days in what is expected to prove a GOP theme.
They also are expected to hammer away at her record as a member of the Hamburg Town Board.
"It's good to see that Kathy Hochul was able to find the meeting in Geneseo, considering she doesn't even live in the 26th District," said Matthew Harakal, a spokesman. "It's no surprise that her record of raising taxes and fees resonated with Washington Democrats, and now she's their handpicked candidate."
Hochul countered that she has no problem running from her Hamburg base because, as county clerk, she already represents 34 percent of the district. She also noted that former Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds -- a Republican -- first ran for the same seat in 1998 while living in Springville, also outside the district.
Jack Davis, a Clarence industrialist who ran for the seat three times previously, and David Bellavia, an Iraq War veteran from Batavia, are collecting signatures on designating petitions in hopes of gaining independent lines in the race.
Lee resigned the seat Feb. 9 after a gossip website reported the married congressman was seeking women on the Internet.