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Editorial: State Legislature endorsements

Today, the News editorial page begins four days of endorsements in contested elections, beginning with the state Legislature. Whether you agree or disagree with our conclusions, we urge you to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

In the state Senate, Republicans control the 63-seat chamber by just one vote. Ideology aside, a Democratic-controlled state Senate would become top-heavy with downstate voices, which too often drown out upstate concerns.

A flip of the state Senate would give Democrats control of both chambers of the Legislature, plus the governorship, while ensuring the party has the upper hand when redistricting takes place after the 2020 census.

Our choices in two contested state Senate races, in addition to being credible representatives, are needed in Albany to keep Western New York with a prominent seat at the table.

6oth Senate District: Chris Jacobs

Jacobs, the former Erie County clerk, tends to focus on bread-and-butter issues. When the Huntley Power Station closed, the Town of Tonawanda lost its largest single taxpayer in NRG Energy. Jacobs and Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, secured increased money from a state mitigation fund to help offset the lost revenue.

One of Jacobs’ priorities is creating an independent budget office in Albany to attach cost estimates to projects or bills presented to the state Legislature. That sounds like an idea that would more than pay for itself.

Jacobs’ Democratic challenger is Carima El-Behairy, co-founder of a software and publishing company and a treasurer for Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York. El-Behairy will no doubt continue working for progressive causes, but could use more political seasoning.

61st Senate District: Michael Ranzenhofer

Ranzenhofer, an attorney with a practice in Akron, is a traditional pro-business conservative. He received a 93 percent rating from the National Rifle Association in 2018, and gets high marks from pro-business groups.

The five-term Amherst Republican introduced two political reform bills that passed the state Senate this year. One would limit political donations from people or entities doing business with public officials. The other prohibits appointees of the governor from making contributions to his or her political campaigns. Both deserve serious consideration when the Assembly reconvenes.

Joan Seamans is the Democratic candidate, and a formidable one. Seamans has business experience, after three decades of running a photography studio in Williamsville, and has a talent for connecting with voters. She has a future in public service.

142nd Assembly District: Patrick Burke

This is a rematch of April’s special election in which Erik T. Bohen, a Democrat who ran on the Republican line, eked out a narrow victory against the Democrat’s endorsed candidate, Erie County Legislator Patrick B. Burke.

The 142nd District seems to like outsiders. This is the same district that sent Michael P. Kearns, Mark J.F. Schroeder and Brian Higgins to the state Assembly. That can be emotionally satisfying, especially with a foil like former Speaker – and now felon – Sheldon Silver to confront. But there’s also a price. That’s why, in a close decision, we are endorsing Burke. He stands to do better for the district.

In truth, neither candidate is especially inspiring. Both think the state spends too little on education, despite its tops-in-the-nation support. Both are acolytes of New York State United Teachers.

Bohen is trying to make a virtue of his legislative solitude. He won’t rule out caucusing with Republicans, but he makes no commitment, so voters are left in the dark.

143rd Assembly District: Monica Wallace

First elected in 2016 after two previous occupants of the seat were driven out of office in sex-based scandals, Monica Wallace has found firm footing as a legislator. She is focused on the need to clean up corruption in Albany. She supported pension forfeiture and believes the country’s divisiveness is caused by a “complete lack of confidence” in public officials. She says holding herself and her colleagues accountable can help to solve the problem. She backs measures to increase transparency, including closing the LLC loopholes through which wealthy individuals are able to make virtually unlimited donations.

Wallace deserves to be re-elected. Her Republican opponent is Daniel Centinello Sr.

146th Assembly District: Raymond Walter

Residents of the 146th Assembly District have a happy conundrum before them: Which of two well-qualified candidates should they support?

A little to our own surprise, we recommend the incumbent, Republican Raymond Walter, although we hope his able and passionate opponent, Democrat Karen McMahon, will continue to look for ways to serve the public.

Walter didn’t make a good impression when he ran for county executive three years ago, but it was a different candidate who made the case for re-election to Assembly. He says he never turns down meetings, even with people with whom he may have political disagreements. That’s what you want in a legislator. On corruption, he has voted to close the LLC loophole, which allows unlimited political contributions by wealthy interests. He also wants to create a new ethics panel with independent authority over the legislative and executive branches of state government.

McMahon boasts a strong resume and as a Democrat, she says she can do more to bring resources to the district. There’s truth in that, and if it were the only criteria, she would have the edge. But Walter is a credible representative and McMahon hasn’t made the case to replace him.

147th Assembly District: Luke Wochensky

An unusual race is under way in 147th Assembly District, which includes all of Wyoming County and southern Erie County. There, a Republican incumbent with a weak voting record is being chased by a Democrat who has been endorsed by – get this – Wyoming County’s top Republican.

Democrat Luke Wochensky won the public support of Doug Berwanger, chairman of the Wyoming County Board of Supervisors, for good reason. Wochensky is energetic, interested and conservative enough for this district.

By contrast, the incumbent, Republican David DiPietro, has missed more votes each session than the last and, according to Berwanger, has been scarce in the district.

DiPietro’s campaign has insinuated that Wochensky is a state tax cheat. Wochensky insists he has paid all the taxes he owes and notes, persuasively, that the state Department of Taxation and Finance has raised no concerns about his status. This is a red herring.

Wochensky shows a level of commitment that DiPietro lacks. He would make a strong advocate for the district.

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