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Grisanti gets backing of minor party for Senate Independence Party cites his courage

Under normal circumstances, an endorsement for State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti by a Row E party on the statewide ballot would hardly merit even a hint of hoopla.

But the embattled Republican from Buffalo is embracing any advantage he can get these days after earning statewide attention for his involvement in a Feb. 10 brawl at the Seneca Niagara Casino, followed by last week's rejection by an old ally -- the Conservative Party.

So when Frank M. MacKay, state chairman of the Independence Party, came to the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park on Tuesday to bestow his first endorsement of the year, Grisanti basked in the best morsel of good news he has enjoyed in weeks.

"He is someone I believe has turned out to be one of the most courageous public officials I have ever seen," MacKay said. "We don't usually come out this early to make an endorsement, but in this case, I felt it was absolutely necessary to do so."

MacKay did not cite Grisanti's controversial vote to legalize same-sex marriage in 2011, but he mentioned several times that the senator has acted "courageously" while in office.

And while his party made no endorsements during the 2010 election, when Grisanti defeated the Democratic incumbent, MacKay said Grisanti now catches his attention for his willingness to cross party lines and not be beholden to special interests.

"He has been a self-made, independent lawmaker dating back to his campaign in 2010 and has always stuck to his pledge of putting people before politics," he said.

The Independence Party, founded by former gubernatorial candidate B. Thomas Golisano in 1994, fell to the fifth spot on the ballot in 2010 after earning the top minor party position for many years. But some voters are attracted to it because they believe it represents "independents," and it can prove a factor in some elections.

Grisanti has attempted to regroup after the Conservatives refused to endorse him, citing his "broken promise" to vote against same-sex marriage when they backed him in 2010, as well as his vote for the "millionaires tax," which they contend amounts to a tax increase.

The loss of the endorsement proves especially troubling for his uphill campaign because the Conservative line -- now strategically placed on Row C and often proving crucial -- provided the winning margin for him in 2010.

The senator earned more negative headlines Tuesday with reports that he and his wife, Maria, and three others are banned from Seneca Gaming casinos in the aftermath of the rumble.

While the Conservative Party has cited Grisanti's votes and not the casino incident as the reason for their rejection, the senator still labels the move a "deal." He said the party has concentrated only on his same-sex marriage vote without recognizing a "host" of other accomplishments.

"That's their prerogative," he said. "I'm not shocked by it."

He also said he has no problem with the casino ban, since neither he nor his wife had any plans to return to the Seneca Niagara Casino, where witnesses said he became embroiled in an argument with several Seneca Nation patrons at the bar. As a result of the incident, sources said Seneca businessman Eric White and his wife, Kristina, as well as Christina Schindler, daughter of former Seneca Nation President Cyrus Schindler, also were banned.

"I don't think it played any role in the Conservative Party decision," Grisanti said. "I got in the middle of something I might give a second guess to next time."

But he also said that because his wife was being attacked, he would "do it again."

That statement was seconded by MacKay. "If he had not defended his wife in that situation, I would have a very hard time standing here," he said.

Grisanti also launched his first shots at his possible Democratic opponent, former County Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick of Kenmore, whom the Conservatives endorsed. He called him a "career politician."

He said he will defend his record in the State Legislature, having served in a productive session that he said has left the region and state better off when compared with previous "dysfunctional" years.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com