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Hamburg village trustee gaining support for bid to challenge Sen. Mark Grisanti

ALBANY – A Hamburg village trustee met over the weekend with the head of the state Democratic Senate Campaign Committee to discuss help the political group can provide in her expected bid for the Democratic nomination for the seat now held by Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican.

“We’re beginning to work with her now. We’re excited about her potential candidacy,” said Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who heads the Senate Democratic campaign committee, of Laura Palisano Hackathorn.

Grisanti, who is likely facing Republican primary challenges this fall, is considered a prime target by Democrats, given the overwhelming Democratic enrollment edge in the district, which stretches from Grand Island through parts of Buffalo to several Southtowns municipalities, including Hamburg and Orchard Park.

One of the keys for Democrats, however, will be whether they can avoid the infighting that the Erie County Democratic Party is infamous for far beyond Western New York.

Gianaris said Hackathorn seems to have an edge there.

“She’s seemingly on good terms with a variety of Democrats who aren’t always on the same page in Western New York,” said Gianaris, who met with Hackathorn on Saturday in Hamburg.

Gianaris said Hackathorn’s mix of experience in local government as the female owner of a small business will provide “a nice contrast” for Democrats to Grisanti if he survives potential primary challenges.

Hackathorn, who has served on the Hamburg village board of trustees since 2004 and is a lifelong resident of Hamburg, said she is “leaning very strongly” toward running and will make a decision soon. But she sounded like her mind was very much made up.

Asked, for instance, what makes Grisanti vulnerable, she said, “I’ll leave his campaign up to him and his people, but my plan is to show there is value to what I can bring to the district.”

Asked if she is prepared for the rigors of a campaign that will see Republicans fighting mightily to keep Grisanti’s seat – which would help the GOP retain the co-control of the Senate that it has with a handful of breakaway Democrats – Hackathorn said, “My eyes are wide open.”

Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner said Democratic leaders in the district are already starting to line up behind her candidacy.

“I think she’s committed to run, and in talking to some party leaders, they’re excited about her candidacy,” he said.

Zellner, who has been working with Gianaris on ways for Democrats to take the seat held by Grisanti, said the Queens Democrat’s trip to Hamburg on Saturday pushes along the process.

“It’s significant he’s here talking to her, because I think we can coalesce around her and be able to have a group of people working for her early. We had a primary in this district before, and I’m hoping we can avoid that in this race,” he said.

While Democrats may outnumber Republicans in the 60th Senate district by what Hackathorn said is a two-to-one edge, the Senate Republican central campaign account has a campaign bankroll that dwarfs the Democratic committee headed by Gianaris.

The Democratic committee reported having just $178.29 on hand in January, but Gianaris notes that is a sharp improvement from the $3.1 million deficit the committee was running four years ago.

He said his committee will have the resources to help Hackathorn if she runs.

The Senate Republican’s central campaign account reported having $2.3 million on hand in January.

Gianaris said Grisanti is vulnerable because of some of his GOP conference’s positions on everything from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s stalled Women’s Equality Act to improvements to the state’s ethics and campaign finance laws.

A Grisanti spokesman declined to comment.