Despite gerrymandering, 60th Senate district holds opportunity for change in WNY

BY MATT RICCHIAZZI

The New York State’s 60th Senate District is a case study in gerrymandering, political self-interest, and high-politics at the crux of the State’s power structure.

Many of the areas now included in the 60th District – which are comprised of Tonawanda, Grand Island, North Buffalo, parts of Buffalo’s West Side, Hamburg, Eden, Evans and Orchard Park- along the Lake Erie and Niagara River waterfront – became part of the 60th district after 2010.

Some of the present 60th District was, prior to 2001, part of the 57th district – comprising the City of Niagara Falls, a portion of the City of Tonawanda, and most of the City of Buffalo.

Prior to 2001, the 60th district was comprised of Tonawanda, Amherst, Clarence, and Genesee County – the communities now represented by Republican State Senator Mike Ranzenhofer and is now the 61stDistrict.

Slide3

The old 57th district was drawn to encompass Democrat Italian and black voters in Buffalo and Niagara Falls and herd them into one district.

The ethnic German, Polish, and Irish populations on the far East Side and in South Buffalo were drawn into the 58th district, with Cheektowaga, Lackawanna, and West Seneca.

From 1981 to 1993, the 57th district was held by Anthony Masiello; who went on to become mayor of Buffalo, then by Anthony Nanula until 2000. Al Coppola succeeded Nanula when he won a special election to the seat after Nanula vacated it to become Buffalo Comptroller.

In 2001, Byron Brown defeated Coppola, aided by party bosses who introduced another Italian in the race and split the white vote.

Following Brown’s senate election, the district was redrawn into a predominantly African American district. Brown would hold the seat until becoming elected Buffalo Mayor in 2006, and Antoine Thompson, who is African American, would hold the seat until 2010.

After Mark Grisanti’s upset victory over Thompson, in 2010, Republicans retook the chamber from Democrats, who had controlled all three branches of the state government for a two-year period.

Slide2

During the 2010 redistricting, the district was redrawn again and the Italian community was brought back into the district while African American neighborhoods were  drawn out.

To help Grisanti, Niagara County’s George Maziarz took heavily Democratic Niagara Falls into his Senate District (62nd) and Republicans gave Buffalo’s East Side to newcomer Tim Kennedy, (63rd District) while snatching some Republican heavier areas to the south for Grisanti.

Still, Grisanti wound up with the bluest and most vulnerable to swing of all Republican held seats and he couldn’t hold on to it.

The present 60th has 104,000 registered Democrats and 22,000 registered Republicans yet Democrats here are more centrist than those in liberal New York City and may vote for a moderate Republican.

Because the balance of power in the senate is perilously close, the 60th may be the tipping point for whichever party wins it.

If this is so, it could give the 60th district Senator enormous influence and power over the $500 million spent daily in the highest taxed state in America.

Slide1