Ever since Kathleen C. Hochul first hinted at becoming the Democratic candidate for the vacant 26th Congressional District seat, Republicans have been just itching to highlight her record on the Hamburg Town Board.
Monday, the National Republican Congressional Committee followed through, unveiling a 30-second video expected to hit the airwaves soon. It kicked off an expected hard-hitting campaign between Hochul and Jane L. Corwin, the Republican candidate, for the May 24 special election, with tough punches already thrown over Hochul's "tax and spend record."
"Kathy Hochul voted to raise fees on all kinds of things," the video says, claiming that, while on the Hamburg Town Board, she voted to increase fees for the beach at Hamburg Town Park, ice skating, golf and other services.
"Hochul knows how to tax and spend," the video relates. "We know to keep her away from our wallets and out of Washington."
Democrats argue that Hochul's record as Erie County clerk serves as a relatively safe perch from which to launch a congressional campaign. She has no legislative voting record to draw criticism and has received generally high marks in the clerk's office for efficiency and service.
Indeed, Hochul's new website does not even mention that she served 13 years on the Town Board.
But Republicans are basing the tough and negative spots on her tenure there.
"While Western New York families are struggling to make ends meet, career politician Kathy Hochul is busy making their lives more expensive," said Paul Lindsay, the National Republican Congressional Committee's communications director. "Hochul has a disturbing record of raising taxes and fees in Erie County, and that's a record Western New York families can't afford to see taken to Washington."
Corwin, a Clarence assemblywoman, has stuck a "warm and fuzzy" tone in introductory ads sponsored directly by her campaign.
The Hochul forces immediately cried foul Monday, accusing the Republican committee of "mudslinging" right from the outset of the campaign and conveniently overlooking her accomplishments as clerk.
"It's just a way to distract voters about what Kathy has done," said Fabien Levy, Hochul spokesman. "Why don't they look at her record as clerk?"
Levy said Hochul stood up to her own Democratic colleagues in Albany when they proposed requiring the purchase of new license plates and retained license and registration fees for Erie County. She also introduced other efficiencies that save more than $1 million, Levy said.
He did not discuss her record as a Hamburg Town Board member.
But Levy said the fact that national Republicans already are launching negative attacks on Hochul indicates their concern over her candidacy.
"They're obviously worried," he said.
By contrast, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- the GOP panel's Democratic counterpart -- has passed so far on assisting the Hochul campaign because of what sources say is its uphill challenge.
"Western New York support is what matters," Levy said. "What happens in Albany and Washington are irrelevant."
In other developments, Clarence industrialist Jack Davis launched a "convoy" Monday to deliver his designating petitions for an independent line on the ballot to the state Board of Elections in Albany. Spokesman Curtis Ellis said Davis collected 12,000 signatures, far more than the 3,500 required.
"Jack Davis has been nominated by more than 12,000 people," Ellis said. "The establishment candidates have each been nominated by seven [party leaders]."
Iraq War veteran David Bellavia of Batavia, who has also been collecting signatures for an independent line, was expected to file late Monday with a "comfortable margin" over the required 3,500, according to a source close to the campaign.
Hochul also was assured of a second line on the ballot Sunday when the Working Families Party endorsed her candidacy.
The Green Party's candidate is Ian Murphy, editor of the online Buffalo Beast, who gained notoriety by prank-calling Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.