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Morinello upsets Ceretto; Wallace defeats Sugg

The most expensive state Assembly race ever in upstate New York paid off Tuesday for Angelo J. Morinello who defeated incumbent John D. Ceretto in the battle for the 145th Assembly District seat.

Questions about corruption and political favoritism were at the heart of the race, but political spending drove the campaigns. When the final bills are tabulated, the combined campaigns are expected to top at least $1.1. million.

[View 2016 election results]

Elsewhere, Democrat Monica P. Wallace won big, as many had expected, over Republican Russell W. Sugg in the race for the 143rd District seat. Ethics reform emerged as a main issue in that race because the two prior representatives were caught in sexual harassment scandals while in office.

But it was the 145th District, which covers most of western Niagara County plus Grand Island, that garnered much of the local attention this election season with Morinello, a Republican and retired Niagara Falls city judge for 15 years, challenging Ceretto, a Lewiston resident running for his third term.

Morinello declared victory early in the evening on Tuesday. His key to victory?

"I think it was work ethic and the message," Morinello said. "My message resonated: ethics reform, needing to fix the structure so we can fix the state."

An effort to reach Ceretto Tuesday night was unsuccessful.

Ceretto painted a target on his back, as far as Republicans are concerned, by switching from the GOP to the Democratic Party last year, in part to have access to more discretionary grant funding than he had as a minority member of the Assembly.

But Ceretto came under fire after The Buffalo News revealed staff emails that showed political considerations were part of the decision-making process for grants Ceretto awarded in his district last year.

Morinello’s campaign seized on that and called for investigations of Ceretto by several state agencies and commissions. Ceretto said last week he wasn’t worried about that, because he said he had done nothing wrong.

That set the stage for huge campaign spending in this race.

As of Thursday, more than $700,000 had been spent on the race, most of it coming from the Democratic and Republican Assembly campaign committees in Albany, which have spent more money in the Ceretto-Morinello race than in any other Assembly contest this year.

And documents that local TV stations are required to file with the Federal Communications Commission show that Ceretto had booked another $320,000 worth of TV commercials to air Thursday through Monday on the four major network affiliates in Buffalo.

Morinello, who was being outspent better than 2-to-1, had booked only $25,600 worth of commercials for the final days.

"I just think I was the stronger candidate," Morinello said. "Sometimes throwing money at a situation doesn't work. It's just like Albany."

At a total cost of at least $1.1 million, more money was spent on the Ceretto-Morinello race than on all but one of the 150 Assembly races this year.

Meanwhile, in the 143rd Assembly District,  which includes the towns of Cheektowaga and Lancaster and the Village of Depew, Wallace cruised to victory.

Wallace, an attorney and full-time faculty member at the University at Buffalo Law School, is new to politics, but entered the race as a heavy favorite in a district that has roughly twice as many Democrats as Republicans.

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