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South Buffalo rematch: Democrats Bohen, Burke vie for Assembly

The two candidates for the 142nd Assembly District are both Democrats from South Buffalo, say they are not afraid to challenge power brokers and refuse to endorse Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for re-election.

And they ran against each other about seven months ago, when Erik T. Bohen, running on the Republican line, beat Patrick B. Burke in the special election to fill the seat once held by Michael P. Kearns, who resigned to become Erie County clerk.

Burke, an Erie County legislator for five years, believes he lost that election by nearly 400 votes due to the Republican base turning out, Bohen's well-known South Buffalo family and low turnout.

"No one was fired up in a rainy day in April to go out and vote for New York State Assembly," Burke, 34, said Monday during a meeting with reporters and editors at The Buffalo News. Burke earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from SUNY Buffalo State and teaches there part time.

Next month's general election promises a much larger turnout in the district, which includes South Buffalo, Lackawanna, West Seneca and Orchard Park. Bohen has the Republican and Conservative lines, while Burke will be on the Democratic, Working Families and Reform party lines. Michelle Kennedy is running on the Independence line.

After his win, Democrats in the Assembly shunned Bohen, 36, and he became a caucus of one, he said. A St. Bonaventure University graduate with a master's degree from Canisius College, he is a special-education teacher on leave from the Buffalo Public Schools, and said he is independent and taxpayer-focused.

"I was placed on an island. That was political theater," Bohen said. "When you're a moderate in Albany, unfortunately, you don't have a home."

Assemblyman Erik Bohen's desk was physically separated from his Democratic and Republican colleagues in Albany.

He said his issue is with the local leadership of the Democratic Party, and with Cuomo, but he did not rule out caucusing with the Republicans next year if he is re-elected.

Burke said he is not afraid to stand up and ruffle feathers.

"I’ve done a good job of making powerful people hate me," said Burke, citing his first run in 2013 against the endorsed Democrat and his call for Bishop Richard J. Malone to resign in the wake of the church's abuse scandal.

Burke counts among his successes the passage of an Erie County bill to outlaw the use of microbeads in beauty and bath products and his efforts to ban gay conversion therapy. He said campaign finance laws need to be strengthened.

Bohen said the way to fight corruption is to keep proposing bills. He also said he would vote against any effort to increase the salary for Assembly members, which is $79,500.

"If you're in it for the money, you're corrupt and they've won," he said.

The two candidates have spent $173,000 on the campaign so far. Bohen raised $115,935 for the special and general elections and Burke has raised $97,000.

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