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State Senate, Assembly candidates square off

Incumbent State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy wants a higher minimum wage.

Challenger Betty Jean Grant wants to ban fracking.

Kennedy wants to “continue the momentum” in Buffalo created, in part, from the Buffalo Billion.

Grant wants to do that, too, but wants to see the momentum extend to the neighborhoods, not just to “the millionaires and billionaires.”

The hourlong State Senate debate Tuesday night between Kennedy and Grant was a lively, sometimes testy, but always respectful exchange between the Democratic incumbent and the Democratic primary election challenger.

Following the Kennedy-Grant debate, Assembly candidates Antoine M. Thompson, Veronica Nichols and incumbent Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes took the stage for a second hour of debate held before some 100 people Tuesday night in Burchfield Penney Arts Center. The debates were sponsored by the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists

With both the Assembly and Senate districts primarily in Buffalo, and largely in minority communities, much of the discussion of both debates underscored the plethora of issues facing some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

“We are one of the poorest cities in America,” said Thompson. “We had seven young people shot. Three of them died. Our young people need to be reached out to. The people with the services need to get out to the neighborhoods. Our schools are failing. We know people need training. They need education.”

“People have real needs to meet, needs of their families and children in the community they live in,” Peoples-Stokes said. But, taking a more optimistic tone than Thompson, she added that there are opportunities in Buffalo, some offered through programs available to assist residents, and others through jobs open to all residents.

“While some people are waiting to find to find out how they fit in, others are fitting in,” she said.

There was much talk of the Buffalo Billion and the need to ensure the money reaches neighborhoods as well as the waterfront and Medical Campus.

“The billion dollars are tax dollars,” Grant said. “You don’t see one dollar spent on Jefferson, on Broadway-Fillmore or Seneca/Babcock. You don’t see that. We are not two cities. We are not two regions. We are one region.”

There was, in both debates, general agreement that jobs are a key to Buffalo’s economic revival as well as a way to ensure social ills such as crime and hopelessness.

But the debates also gave the individual candidates a platform for their own issues and ideas.

Peoples-Stokes joined Kennedy in voicing support for raising the minimum wage.

Nichols wants more attention paid to gentrification occurring in the city’s Fruit Belt, a neighborhood bordering the Medical Campus. Thompson wants to see a program to help repair neighborhood housing.

Peoples-Stokes supported Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on the Moreland Commission, a group he appointed to investigate government corruption and has since dismantled.

“Gov. Cuomo set up the Moreland Commission,” she said. “If he set up it, he ought to be able to dismantle it.”

Thompson thinks the Moreland Commission is still needed. “Albany does need to be cleaned up,” said Thompson, a former state senator.

During the debate, Peoples-Stokes mentioned that she has been a supporter of Thompson over the years, including when, after losing his Senate seat in 2010, he was appointed by Mayor Byron W. Brown to head the Buffalo Employment Training Center. Thompson quit that job to run against Peoples-Stokes.

“It was disconcerting to me, having supported him all those years,” she said.

Thompson said he was grateful for the opportunity to head the training center, but that he’d “rather work for the people than the politicians.

“People are dying in the streets. People are not working. We gotta put people back to work,” he said.

“These same issues you are raising now,” Peoples-Stokes responded, “if they are a problem now, they were also a problem when you were senator.”

During the senate portion of the debate, there was a similar level of tension at one point over Kennedy’s tenure as a former Erie County legislator.

Grant said Kennedy turned his back on Buffalo by supporting former County Executive Chris Collins, who proposed cutting funds for day care, libraries and health centers.

“You cannot run from your record,” she told Kennedy. “You can’t run from history.”

Kennedy responded that he fought for Buffalo.

Grant, he said, “is misinformed or simply not being truthful. I championed, along with my opponent, to restore library and cultural funding. The facts speak for themselves.”