When Republican Michael H. Ranzenhofer announced Friday he will retire from the State Senate in 2020, he jump-started all kinds of political maneuvering with vast ramifications locally and in Albany, too.
It took only the weekend for two Democrats – Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa and businesswoman Joan Elizabeth Seamans – to enter the succession discussion. And Melodie Baker, the education advocate running for the Democratic nomination in the 27th Congressional District, said Monday she would consider the Senate should her congressional efforts falter.
Republicans will now make a major stand to defend a traditional upstate bastion they cannot afford to lose, with County Legislator Edward A. Rath III and former Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter emerging as the major contenders.
But Albany Democrats made it clear on Monday they will not be satisfied with their new majority in the Senate. They look to Ranzenhofer’s 61st District as an opportunity to expand their edge, and stand ready to spend their considerable resources to claim it.
“We hope to have a crew of Western New York majority senators,” said State Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, who heads the Democratic Senate campaign. “Our growth is going to come from there.”
Indeed, Kulpa said Monday he is nowhere near making a final decision, but is considering a Senate bid – especially with his Democrats now in the majority.
“I have to take a look at it,” he said. “How could I not?”
The supervisor, elected just over two years ago, acknowledged his reticence over launching another campaign while just beginning to work on projects planned by the town. He must weigh that consideration, he said, against the ability to effectively leverage the necessary state funds for the projects.
“The senator was always good to me through his ability to work in a bipartisan fashion,” Kulpa said of Ranzenhofer. “Without Mike in the picture, it’s very important that Amherst be represented at that level.”
While Kulpa could enjoy a major advantage as leader of the 61st District’s largest municipality, he must first contend with Seamans, who will officially announce her encore candidacy on Saturday. After losing by only 8 points to Ranzenhofer in 2018, she announced her 2020 attempt over the weekend at a Cheektowaga union hall.
She said she will concentrate on infrastructure issues, high-speed internet in rural communities, supporting short distance school busing in Rochester, and addressing safe staffing legislation for the protection of seniors in health care facilities.
Baker, director of education for the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, said she remains committed to running as a Democrat for the seat vacated by former Rep. Chris Collins.
“If NY-27 becomes an opportunity that does not avail itself, this would be another opportunity to serve my community,” she said Monday.
Kim Smith, a Monroe County housing advocate, is also exploring the race, according to Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner.
But now it appears that after decades of GOP domination of the district, Senate Democrats will concentrate on adding it to their column. Gianaris noted the district’s Democratic registration advantage of about 8,000 voters makes it “very competitive.”
He also said the 61st, plus the adjoining 60th District that Republican Christopher L. Jacobs will vacate to run for Congress, now represent major opportunities for his party.
Even as Senate Democrats host several fundraisers in Albany over the next few days, Gianaris said campaign funds should not prove a problem.
“The money advantage we have over the Republicans allows us to stretch the field in ways they cannot,” he said about the party’s ability to fund candidates throughout the state.
Zellner, meanwhile, noted that Kulpa is “extremely popular within the party.”
“I would think he would be a very strong presence in that race,” he said.
The chairman also said that designating petitions for the Senate race will not begin circulation until Feb. 25, providing “some time” for Kulpa to decide about running and for his party to bestow an endorsement.
Kulpa said he will decide in two or three weeks.
For the Republicans, Erie County Chairman Karl J. Simmeth Jr. last week appeared to zero in on Rath, calling him the “favorite.”