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Grisanti’s primary campaign traces a fine line

Republican State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti will again face Kevin T. Stocker in a Republican primary Tuesday in parts of the city and suburbs along Lake Erie.

Grisanti, 49, is seeking his third term and faces the challenge of appealing to Republican primary voters while keeping his eye on the general election in a district where the number of enrolled Democrats is higher than any other group of voters.

He has voted in favor of key parts of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s agenda, including gun-control legislation and same-sex marriage. That has put him at odds with the Erie County Republican Committee and the county Conservative Committee, which passed on endorsing either candidate.

Cuomo has helped Western New York in various ways, including the Buffalo Billion, Grisanti said.

“He has been someone who’s answered those needs,” Grisanti said. “There are things that me and him do not agree on.”

When Grisanti speaks of why voters should return him to Albany for another two years, his talking points overlap with Cuomo’s: Over the last four years, the state has eliminated a $10 billion deficit, the State Legislature has passed four on-time budgets, the unemployment rate has dropped, and real estate in Buffalo is hot.

Stocker, 50, sees Grisanti’s friendliness with Cuomo as a vulnerability and is emphasizing it in his campaign.

“The voters are angry with him,” Stocker said.

Stocker mounted a primary challenge in 2012 but came far short of his goal, winning just 40 percent of the vote and losing in every municipality.

But he thinks this year will be different. Stocker said he has knocked on 18,000 doors since May 2013 and made contact with 10,000 voters.

“The No. 1 one issue is trust with the voters,” Stocker said. “Voters don’t trust Mark Grisanti.”

Stocker, who lives in Kenmore and has a private law practice, cited Grisanti’s votes in favor of the SAFE Act in 2013 and in favor of same-sex marriage in 2011.

Grisanti leads the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee, and a leading environmental group criticized Grisanti’s leadership on several bills, including one that would prohibit the sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads.

“His record is poor,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates.

Grisanti said he has a strong microbead bill and hopes that it passes next year.

Although Grisanti criticized his predecessor, Antoine Thompson, in 2010 for using taxpayer-funded mail to increase his profile, Grisanti has sent out several mail pieces, at government expense, including one explaining Common Core, another about how he’s “fighting against welfare abuse” and a “taxpayer progress report” with his picture.

“It’s not promotional mailing for me,” he said. “It’s an informative mailing.”

Grisanti has raised 10 times as much money as Stocker, taking in $348,758 in contributions in the last year. He has spent $301,279 and has $128,113 on hand.

As of July 15, Stocker had raised $33,906 in the last year, largely from a $30,000 loan he made, and had $8,097 on hand. He failed to file the last two required campaign finance reports.

In addition to asking Republicans for their vote, Stocker has approached Working Families Party members to ask them to write his name on the ballot, which is unusual for someone whose official biography highlights his 20-year status as a Republican committeeman and his National Rifle Association membership.

The Working Families Party, which is backed by labor unions and in nearly all cases endorses Democrats, has endorsed Marc C. Panepinto, a lawyer who also has the support of his Democratic Party.

Grisanti also has been endorsed by the Independence Party and will appear on that ballot line in November.

Democratic voters, who comprise 46 percent of the electorate in the 60th Senate District, also have a reason to vote Tuesday. A Democratic primary will be held between Panepinto and Alfred T. Coppola, a former Buffalo Council member who served briefly as a state senator in 2000.