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Grant poised to challenge Kennedy in primary

A Democratic primary is shaping up in a new State Senate district that includes South Buffalo and the East Side.

Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant said she will announce her candidacy for the 63rd State Senate district today.

That will set up a challenge to State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy in the newly apportioned district that also includes Cheektowaga and Lackawanna.

Grant, 64, of Buffalo, said she decided to run for the seat after former State Sen. Antoine M. Thompson decided not to challenge Kennedy.

"I think the fact that I know so many of the people within this senatorial district, whether in South Buffalo or on the East Side of Buffalo, I feel that I have a strong connection," said Grant, who is a former Common Council member and a former city School Board member.

Grant plans an announcement at 4:30 p.m. today at Martin Luther King Park.

Kennedy, a former Erie County legislator, took office representing the 58th State Senate District in 2010 after defeating then-Sen. William T. Stachowski in the Democratic primary and Jack F. Quinn III in the general election. His district includes Cheektowaga, Eden, West Seneca, Hamburg, Lackawanna and sections of South Buffalo and downtown.

The new district includes sections of the East Side that currently are represented by Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, a Republican. Thompson noted last week that several people had encouraged him to run because there is no African-American senator from upstate. Grant's announcement came after the Erie County Democratic Committee chose to endorse Kennedy in the race when it appeared he would not have a Democratic challenger. "Certainly, we were taken by surprise," said Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan. The committee "strongly supports" Grant in her role as Legislature chairwoman, he said.

Grant said she believes her support for cultural funding and libraries will help her in the election. She said she also plans to focus on economic and waterfront development.

Kennedy, 35, of Buffalo, said that he is focused on the final weeks of the legislative session. "Regardless of who enters the race, I'm going to continue standing up for Western New York by advancing important initiatives designed to create jobs, protect children and families and increase the minimum wage," he said.