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Hayes quits Assembly, continuing recent trend; Resignations result in unusual turnover

Short of scandal, it's unusual for a member of the Assembly to resign midterm as Amherst Republican Jim Hayes did on Monday. It's almost unheard of for three assemblymen from the same region to step down within two months of each other, as Hayes, Sam Hoyt and Mark J.F. Schroeder have done.

The circumstances are different -- Hayes said he wants to make more money in the private sector to pay the college tuitions of his daughters, while Schroeder is set to win an uncontested election for city comptroller and Hoyt got a big pay raise to join the Cuomo administration.

But their decisions to leave are becoming more commonplace and have helped produce an unprecedented turnover in the Western New York delegation. Seven of 13 Assembly seats and four of Senate seats have changed hands during the two election cycles dating to the campaign of 2008.

"It's very strange," said Dennis Ward, Democratic commissioner on the Erie County Board of Elections. "It's a huge turnover in the membership from Western New York."

In a handful of instances, most notably Sen. Antoine M. Thompson and Assembly Member Francine DelMonte, voters turned the incumbents out of office.

For the most part, however, incumbents either retired after a long tenure -- witness Sen. Dale M. Volker and Assemblyman William L. Parment, who between them served 66 years in Albany -- or gave up a safe seat to seek higher office, as was the case with Assembly Member Jack Quinn III.

This round of departures involves incumbents quitting midterm.

Schroeder's resignation Aug. 8 was expected after he captured the Democratic nomination for comptroller and the Republicans failed to field an opponent. Hoyt's resignation June 30 to join the Cuomo administration didn't come as a shock either, given his alliance with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his razor-thin margin of victory in last year's general election. He took a job paying $139,000 as a senior vice president of Empire State Development Corp. Schroeder and Hoyt are Democrats whose districts include Buffalo.

Three other Assembly members around the state have resigned this year to take posts with the Cuomo administration. Another retired, and another left for another elected office.

Hayes, 47, is the only one of the eight who have stepped down to work in the private sector. He makes $100,000 annually representing Amherst, Pendleton and a portion of North Tonawanda in the 148th District, including $20,500 as the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. With two daughters approaching their college years, he said he needed to make more money.

"It's time for me to start saving for tuition," he said.

Hayes has resigned, effective Sept. 6, to work for Ayco Co., a Goldman Sachs-owned firm based in an Albany suburb that provides financial planning services to corporate executives. He said the job will involve extensive travel that precludes him from continuing to serve in the Assembly.

His resignation caps a 20-year career that began as a village trustee in Williamsville and a member of the Town Board in Amherst. As a member of the Assembly minority, Hayes had limited opportunity to pass major pieces of legislation. Instead, he was an outspoken critic of state fiscal policy.

"I'm most proud of the fact I was able to work my way up to be the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. That's a tremendous platform I used to argue against overspending and overtaxation," he said.

It's unclear how his vacant seat will be filled. Hayes said he believes it will be through the Nov. 8 general election, but at least one election law expert has asserted it will require a special election. Regardless, candidates will be selected by party leaders rather than voters in a primary because of the timing of Hayes' resignation.

While the seat has been long held by Republicans, Democrats hold a small edge in voter enrollment -- 32,780 to 29,111, with 14,723 independents representing a huge swing vote that that has cut both ways in recent elections.

In the March special election for Congress, Democrat Kathy Hochul trounced Republican Jane Corwin by an almost 2-to-1 ratio on the major party lines in Amherst. In the 2007 general election for Erie County executive, Republican Chris Collins crushed Democrat James Keane nearly 3-to-1 in the town.

While the boundaries of state legislative districts will be redrawn before the 2012 election, the makeup of the 148th District is unlikely to change dramatically. By law, towns such as Amherst can't be divided between Assembly districts, and its 122,000 residents will make up the lion's share of the 148th's 130,000 residents.

Candidates with Amherst roots are expected to secure party nominations. "I don't think there will be a shortage of people taking a look at the seat," said Ralph Mohr, the GOP election commissioner.

email: jheaney@buffnews.com