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Ranzenhofer’s bid for fourth term in Senate faces challenge from political newcomer Altman

Michael H. Ranzenhofer is seeking his fourth term representing the 61st District in the State Senate.

“What I’d like to do is continue to work on reducing taxes across the board for New York State residents,” Ranzenhofer said. “We need to be more aggressive and be doing a better job in retaining our residents, and I think we can do that with across-the-board tax cuts.”

His Democratic challenger is Elaine B. Altman, an educator and union leader whose unhappiness with Albany prompted her run against the Republican. It’s her first bid for elective office.

“I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but I just need more,” Altman said of the incumbent. “I feel there’s just been a lot of lip service, not just from him, but as a group.”

The district covers Amherst, Clarence, Newstead, Genesee County and reaches Rochester.

Ranzenhofer, 60, is running on the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines and has the edge in numbers, but the district also has 35,000 unaffiliated voters.

A lawyer who served in the Erie County Legislature prior to being elected to the State Senate, Ranzenhofer points to progress in Albany during his time in office the last two years: delivering on-time budgets, controlling spending, keeping down taxes, bringing home money for economic development.

Most recently, voters may connect Ranzenhofer with a bill designating yogurt as the state snack, which featured a 40-minute floor debate that caught the attention of late-night comedy shows. But Ranzenhofer points to other bills he sponsored, including the Nonprofit Revitalization Act, which included substantial reforms to enhance oversight of nonprofits.

“People kind of yawn when you talk about this legislation, but it was a very important piece of legislation and everybody was just amazed we got that law passed,” Ranzenhofer said.

Altman, 64, has been a teacher for more than 20 years in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District, where she currently serves as director of its staff development center.

She also is vice president in the Kenmore Teachers Association, which took her to Albany in the last few years to lobby on behalf of education. That’s how her campaign began, along with her slogan “Send a Teacher to Albany.”

“There are all these things going on that impact us, but no one there gets it,” said Altman, who also has the Working Families Party line on the ballot. “Education needs to be fixed, and I don’t want people to fix education who haven’t been in the classroom.”

Here’s what the candidates said about some of the hot-button issues in the campaign:

• The SAFE Act gun-control law – “The SAFE Act should be repealed,” Ranzenhofer said. “I think it was a very poor piece of legislation.” Altman said, “I’m from the camp that says, ‘Let’s at least see if it’s worthy of modifying in a way that would make it more effective.’ And if not, then throw it out.”

• The natural gas drilling process know as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – “It scares me,” Altman said. “… We need to rely on credible experts before we enter into anything.” Ranzenhofer said, “My personal belief is that it can be done. … I think it would really help our economy. This would be an economic boon for our area, but it needs to be done carefully and safely.”

• Common Core educational standards – “The curriculum that’s been laid out has really been a disaster,” Ranzenhofer said, “and we really need to allow our local school boards and school districts to be much more involved in setting the curriculum.” Altman said, “We have to return control to the schools. I don’t think it’s bad that we try to unite on a set of standards, but I think that how we get to the end game will be different based on communities.”

email: jrey@buffnews.com