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Ad on domestic violence stirs outrage

An attack ad launched by the political arm of the state teachers union is raising ire on both ends of the political spectrum for its graphic depiction of a domestic abuse victim. It also is upsetting some advocates of abused women.

The flier, which targets State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, features the image of a woman with a black eye, bloodied lip and smudged mascara behind the words “Mark Grisanti Won’t Protect Her From Her Abuser.” VOTE-COPE, the political action committee of New York State United Teachers, paid for the mailed flier. The teachers union – whose $300,000 in previous spending helped defeat Grisanti in the Republican primary – is now spending $533,673 in a general election effort that continues to pound Grisanti while supporting Democrat Marc C. Panepinto.

Some Democrats, including Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who was among a group of area Democratic leaders supporting Panepinto, said they were offended by the flier. This was his tweeted reaction to the flier Thursday morning:

“Came home from debate to find this in the mail. Horrible. This makes people hate politics. Vote-Cope should be embarrassed.”

Those who advocate for victims of domestic abuse were equally as appalled, including Debra Jaeger, who lost her sister in a fatal case of domestic violence.

“I look at that picture on the ad, it could have been my sister there,” she said.

“This is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To think a candidate is using a victim in a mudslinging campaign is pretty insensitive.”

Carl Korn, a spokesman for NYSUT, defended the flier.

“If it gets people’s attention, that’s good and they’ll understand why it’s important to approve the full Women’s Equality Act,” he said.

The Women’s Equality Act is a proposed 10-point law that addresses a range of issues from equal pay and strengthening protections for domestic violence victims to ensuring a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

Grisanti, who lost the Republican primary in September to Kenmore attorney Kevin T. Stocker and is running in the general election on the Independence line, has supported nine of the 10 provisions – but not the one that would allow late-term abortion. Because the Senate must approve the act as a whole, opposition to the one piece has held up approval of the other provisions.

Some advocates said they felt that using the image in a political ad minimized the severity of issues that domestic violence victims confront.

“It really diminishes politicians who use tactics to sensationalize issues for their own personal gains,” said Elizabeth King, who volunteers raising awareness for domestic violence issues.

“It should be handled in a way that brings awareness in a positive way to effect change. Is this awareness, or sensationalism?”

Panepinto’s campaign said that it has nothing to do with the flier but did not take issue with it.

“Our campaign has nothing to do with independent expenditures, including this shameful mailer,” said campaign spokesman Conor C. McMahon. “But it’s clear that Grisanti’s ultraconservative opposition to women’s equality is out of step with Western New York voters.”

NYSUT leaders have said their interest in getting Panepinto elected is because they see him as an advocate of public education who will ensure adequate funding for the school system.

Grisanti denounced the mailer Thursday after – coincidentally – visiting the University at Buffalo Law School’s Domestic Violence and Women’s Rights Law & Policy Clinic to present a proclamation honoring the program that assists victims of domestic violence in court. He labeled the NYSUT effort “despicable” because the claim that he voted against provisions of the Women’s Equality Act strengthening anti-domestic violence measures is false.

“To say I voted against protecting victims of domestic violence is not true,” he said.

Grisanti has consistently contended that while he supports the right to abortion, he does not support allowing the procedure right up until birth. Because he said the 10th point would allow abortion to protect the “health” as well as the “life” of the mother, the law could be liberally interpreted to expand abortion. Supporters of the measure say it simply “codifies” New York and federal laws.

The senator said he sees no need for the 10th-point provision because it would take effect only if the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision of Roe v. Wade is overturned, which he said is unlikely. While he supports all the other provisions of the Women’s Equality Act, the 10th point “does not belong” with the others.

He also said he has been active in efforts to fight domestic violence and human trafficking, holding roundtable discussions on the topic on a regular basis.

“It’s disheartening, especially for women who have suffered,” Grisanti said.

“It is disrespectful to women who suffered at the hands of domestic violence. They’re just as aggravated and I’m sure they’re going to have their voices heard.”