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Grisanti's the No. 1 target

State Sen. Mike Gianaris was in our town a few days ago, and that's nothing unusual for the Democrat from Queens.

During a long stint in the Assembly, Gianaris often found himself in Erie County for party fundraising or for testing the waters when he considered running for attorney general several years ago.

But now Gianaris heads the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, the panel charged with electing more Dems to the Legislature's upper chamber -- and by extension, cementing the party's control of Albany. Gianaris attended Cheektowaga Democratic Chairman Frank Max's fund-raising event last weekend, and made it clear his party intends next year to regain the Senate seat swiped last November by Republican Mark Grisanti.

"It's No. 1 on our list," he told the Politics Column.

There's a reason Gianaris and his Dems are still burning over Grisanti's improbable victory. The seat formerly held by Democrat Antoine Thompson was considered the safest Democratic district in upstate New York -- a 5-to-1 enrollment edge; a Democratic seat for as far back as anyone could remember.

But some savvy pols like former County Executive Joel Giambra and former Niagara County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek urged Grisanti to take the shot. They saw Thompson stumbling, and recognized he was losing steam even in his own African-American base. They also knew Buffalo's Carl Paladino -- the Republican candidate for governor -- would draw Grisanti sympathizers to the polls in big numbers.

Grisanti eked out a victory. And the GOP regained control of the Senate and the reapportionment process to follow.

Gianaris calls the Grisanti victory a "fluke." And in a district with 82,000 more Dems than Repubs, he may be right.

"He won because of a perfect storm," Gianaris said, adding he foresees none of that storm's ingredients recurring in 2012.

Gianaris also said Grisanti's votes as a conservative Republican just won't fly in such an overwhelmingly Democratic district. So although Grisanti has held office less than four months, Gianaris is already hitting town to lay the groundwork for next year.

Naturally, none of this impresses the incumbent. He rejects the "fluke" label applied by Gianaris.

"We won because we ran a helluva campaign," Grisanti said. "Voters were tired of what was happening in Albany, and in the past three or four months I think we've done pretty well for the people of Western New York."

Others, like Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy, point out that the GOP controls the Senate, and will control reapportionment. That can only work in favor of the guy whose upset victory provided the Republican majority in the first place.

"You know he's doing something right when the other side starts attacking him this early," Langworthy said. "And I would say Mark's district could look drastically different."

Grisanti says the Gianaris approach is "disappointing," especially after the governor and Legislature worked together to produce a budget in an almost unprecedented manner.

"I can't help it if the election left a bad taste in his mouth," he said of Gianaris. "The guy is from Queens, and for him to come here to Western New York and start bad mouthing is disrespectful and disconcerting."

It is most interesting to note the rub Grisanti has caused for Senate Democrats. The rookie Republican now knows his every move will be closely documented.

But if Grisanti was surprised at the intensity of early efforts to take him out, he shrugs his shoulders and acknowledges it's part of the deal.

Welcome to Albany, Sen. Grisanti. And welcome to the 2012 election, too.


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