After Timothy M. Kennedy beat Betty Jean Grant by a mere 139 votes in the 2012 State Senate primary, politics changed for the ambitious Democrat from South Buffalo.
He immediately focused more attention on his district's Black community, mending fences and even attending weekly church services. He jettisoned his old Conservative Party backing, supported same-sex marriage, and "evolved" from a pro-life to pro-choice position.
And especially after his Democrats gained their new Senate majority in 2019, Kennedy morphed into a fundraising powerhouse. He gained new and influential allies as chairman of the Transportation Committee, expanding his donor base far beyond his Western New York base and into New York City.
With Democrats now the majority party in the State Senate, Tim Kennedy overnight will become a power broker not only in Western New York, but in regions stretching to central New York and
Now, new campaign finance records filed with the State Board of Elections reveal Kennedy has stoked his campaign treasury to over $2 million, far more than any other Senate candidate in memory from Western New York – and possibly all of upstate. His coffers are brimming despite no serious opposition since Grant's repeat challenge in 2014, and no opponent this year.
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The senator did not respond to several inquiries about his campaign filing, but some political insiders say he may be looking ahead to the mayoral election of 2025.
"Definitely," said one source familiar with the situation when asked about Kennedy's possible mayoral ambitions, noting other possible candidates like Common Council Members Joel L. Feroleto, Christopher P. Scanlon and Mitch Nowakowski as perhaps also entering the mix.
But none, the source added, has amassed a campaign kitty anywhere near Kennedy's, and noted that $2 million could "scare off" not only potential Senate challengers but those interested in City Hall, too.
"Tim has very cleverly used his ability to raise money with his clout and ability to deliver," the source said, "not only here but in other parts of the state."
Without any real opposition for the past several years, Kennedy has emerged as a significant player in fundraising efforts for Senate Democrats. Records show that in 2022 alone, Kennedy contributed $61,400 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He also gave $5,000 to Gov. Kathy Hochul's re-election effort, as well as $5,000 this year to the Erie County Democratic Committee, and $1,000 to Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner's political fund.
He also regularly contributes to various community organizations and charities.
The senator's new majority status also has resulted in new contributor contacts across the state. Scott Rechler of Glen Head on Long Island gave Kennedy $10,000; $11,800 came from Patrick Frayne of Wyckoff, N.J.; Transport Workers Union Local 100 in Brooklyn gave him $8,000; the New York State Laborers PAC gave him $5,000; and the New York State Troopers PAC gave him $10,000 this year.
Locally, he received significant donations of $10,000 from Accent Stripe Co. executive Gerald A. Buchheit, $7,500 each from businessman Howard A. Zemsky (a former top Cuomo administration official) and his wife, Leslie, $5,000 from Savarino Cos. LLC, and $5,000 each from Pinto Construction Services of Buffalo and Mark Cerrone Inc. of Niagara Falls.
Indeed, Kennedy has been able to deliver for the area as an influential committee chairman in Albany. Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officials credit him for millions in new aid for operating and capital needs, and he also has been credited with delivering $30 million to help redevelop the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Terminal at the foot of Main Street.
Kennedy has never acknowledged interest in other offices beyond the Senate, but mayor might loom as a possibility because he can use his existing fund for a city office, the $2 million total far exceeds that of any other contender, and possible retirement for Mayor Byron W. Brown after a record five terms.