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Morinello vs. Ceretto Assembly race cost $2 million

NIAGARA FALLS - Even before Election Day, it was clear that the battle between Assemblyman John D. Ceretto and his challenger, Angelo J. Morinello, was the most expensive Assembly race ever outside of New York City.

The final tally is now in, and it sets the bar high for future races for the lower house of the State Legislature.

John Ceretto

The 145th District contest cost slightly over $2 million, counting the money spent by the candidates themselves, by the Democratic and Republican parties and by political action committees.

All that money did produce a rarity: Ceretto was the only incumbent legislator in the entire state to run for re-election and lose.

Morinello, a Republican who formerly served as a city judge in Niagara Falls, won the election with 54.6 percent of the vote. By less than 5,000 votes, he defeated Ceretto, a three-term incumbent who switched party affiliation from the GOP to Democratic in the summer of 2015.

The final official count was 28,381 for Morinello, 23,609 for Ceretto in the district that includes Grand Island, Niagara Falls and the towns of Lewiston, Niagara, Wheatfield and Cambria in western Niagara County.

The $2 million was spent on a race that won't move the needle in Albany. The Democrats won 107 of the 150 Assembly seats, the same number they won in 2014. Four seats changed parties, two in each direction.

"I really believe I can make a difference," Morinello said. "The numbers don't change, but I have the ability to talk on behalf of our local citizens. Western New York needs to speak with one voice."

The Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee went all-out for its party's new member. Financial filings with the State Board of Elections showed that it invested $878,179 trying to keep Ceretto in the Assembly. It's by far the biggest total the DACC spent on any of the 24 candidates it supported financially this year, and almost all of that money was spent in the final month of the campaign - $280,000 of it in the final week.

"They have never spent campaign cash at that level before," a GOP insider marveled. "It's an astonishing number."

A DACC spokesman did not return a call seeking comment, and neither did Ceretto.

Mark Gummo Communications, a New York City company that prepared Ceretto's TV commercials, was paid $620,000, including all of the $280,000 spent by DACC in the final week.

In all, $979,277 was spent by Ceretto's campaign or to support him.

The Republican Assembly Campaign Committee invested only $207,488 in Morinello's bid, which was the second-most of the 31 candidates it funded.

But also coming down hard against Ceretto was New Yorkers for Independent Action, a super PAC which supports the proposal to create a tax credit for private and religious school tuition. It spent $675,881 in negative TV ads against Ceretto.

The total spent by or on behalf of Morinello was $1,029,127.

A big beneficiary was Growth Marketing Group of New York, a Rochester company that prepared Morinello's TV ads. It pocketed $220,000 from the Morinello campaign.

The Fund for Great Public Schools, a teachers' union PAC, spent $28,471 on support for Ceretto and $26,803 on advertising against Morinello.

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