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In blue-leaning district, Karen McMahon seeks to oust GOP Assemblyman Ray Walter

If Ray Walter had his way, he would be running against Nathan McMurray in Tuesday's congressional election.

But when Rep. Chris Collins decided to seek re-election, the Amherst Republican turned back to his Assembly seat. The seven-year incumbent faces a challenge from Karen McMahon, a first-time candidate, in a district where Democrats hold a sizable enrollment edge.

Walter is emphasizing his ability to work across the aisle, along with his efforts to reform the state's economic-development programs.

"I'm able to accomplish a lot," Walter said.

McMahon is getting a boost from a recent infusion of $220,000 from Assembly Democrats, with more money likely to follow in the race's closing days.

The first-time candidate has targeted Albany corruption and says she can deliver to the district better than Walter as a member of the Assembly's Democratic majority.

"At this point, Amherst really doesn't have a seat at the table," she said.

The 146th Assembly district includes the towns of Amherst and Pendleton. Democrats make up 40 percent of registered voters, with Republicans at 32 percent and unaffiliated voters at 20 percent. Walter narrowly defeated 24-year-old Steve Meyer in 2016.

A native of rural Sullivan County, Walter, 46, came to this area to attend SUNY Geneseo State College and has lived in Amherst since 1995. He is an attorney focusing on elder law, estates and wills. He's held the seat since winning a special election in 2011.

Walter said he cooperates with Democratic colleagues from the local delegation on, for example, legalizing ride-sharing and adding money to the budget for local schools.

He said he wants to lift the regulatory and tax burden in New York, particularly upstate, and says the single-payer health-insurance plan supported by McMahon will drive up costs and limit choice.

"I believe health care is a right, not a privilege," McMahon wrote to Democratic officials early this year.

Incumbent Assemblyman Raymond Walter wins new term in tight race

Between Jan. 1 and Tuesday, Walter raised $104,281, according to state records, with his largest contribution, $20,000, from Assembly Republicans.

Both candidates share concerns about corruption in Albany and transparency in the political process.

Walter notes the convictions of officials close to Cuomo, and he points to his efforts to change how the state's economic-development programs function.

"He doesn't like to take any blame, he'd rather take all credit when they make the announcement," Walter said of the governor's Buffalo Billion initiative.

McMahon doesn't go as far in critiquing Cuomo, saying, "He's done a lot of good things for Western New York." But she said any attempts to stem corruption in New York must start at the top.

"Honestly, I haven't decided who I'm going to vote for," McMahon said.

McMahon, 58, was born in Buffalo but grew up in Snyder. She has lived in Williamsville since 1997. McMahon worked for about 30 years as a law clerk to state and federal judges until 2016, when she started practicing special education law with her husband, Jeff Marcus.

McMahon said when she knocks on doors she often meets residents who don't know who their Assembly member is.

Grelick out, McMahon in as Walter’s Assembly opponent

She said Walter takes credit for items in the state budget, but then votes against the overall spending plan. She also said he professes to be concerned about the environment, but then votes against a fracking ban.

"I would say, what has he really done for us?" McMahon said.

Walter responded that fracking isn't an issue in Amherst, and it is welcomed as a job-creator elsewhere. He added the budget is a series of separate bills and he votes on each on a case-by-case basis.

McMahon, who also said she wants to limit outside income and set term limits for state legislators, has raised $77,600 this year, including $10,000 from Assembly Democrats. The party spent another $210,000 this month to pay for TV and digital media ads.

Walter said he expects the Assembly Democrats to spend a similar amount on McMahon this week. He argues she'd be beholden to the New York City-dominated conference and to Cuomo, who fear his outspoken criticism.

"That is why they're trying to buy this seat," Walter said. McMahon said this financial support won't influence her work as a legislator.

Danilo Lawvere is the Green Party candidate in the race.

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