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Bloomberg's Promise to Grisanti

In the buildup to New York State’s legalization of same-sex marriage, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged his help—that is to say, his money—to any Republican state senators who would cross their leadership and vote yes.

In two weeks, Buffalo’s Mark Grisanti and three other Republicans—Steve Saland of Poughkeepsie, Jim Alesi of Rochester, Roy McDonald of Saratoga‚ will receive their just rewards. On October 13, Bloomberg and a small host committee of his wealthy friends will host a fundraiser honoring the four senators. A mere $250 will get you in the door, but the top tickets are $16,800, so each senator stands to rake in several hundred thousand dollars in campaign funds to counterbalance the money that conservative groups have pledged to spend unseating them as punishment for supporting same-sex marriage.

In Grisanti’s case, the timing of the fundraiser adds an intriguing wrinkle: By the next day, October 14, Grisanti must decide if he’s sticking with the Republican Party or returning to the Democrats, from whence he came. There has been much speculation that he might do so in order to retain his seat: The 60th District is heavily Democratic and likely to remain so even after redistricting; Grisanti’s vote on same-sex marriage caused much consternation among conservatives, and especially among the local GOP, which has never been especially friendly or helpful to Grisanti to begin with; and any senator willing to change parties in such a closely divided body can demand a high price for his fealty.

If Grisanti makes the switch, control of the Senate would be split, 31 senators on each side of the aisle, with four independent Democrats caucusing separately—a breakoff faction that Grisanti could join.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason local Republicans, including Erie County GOP chairman Nick Langworthy and former Erie County Attorney Cheryl Green, have been advocating a most un-Republican measure to increase the size of government: They’d like to add a 63rd state senator. No matter the cost of paying another senator and staff, along with offices and member items, if that addition helps Republicans to retain control of the Senate, even if Grisanti defects.

Of course, everything depends on redistricting. There’s word that the 60th might be extended as far south as Hamburg, if Albany Republicans have their way, to create a more even playing field for the GOP—and perhaps to include a “real” Republican, Jack Quinn III, in the district, just in case. There are plenty of Democrats, meantime, who would prefer that Grisanti remain Republican, in order to clear the path for a “genuine” Democratic candidate for the seat.

In the meantime, imagine how it will frustrate some Republicans around here if Grisanti rakes in a couple hundred thousand dollars at one fundraiser, then defects to the Democrats the next day—taking with him all that campaign money, some of which might have filtered to other local GOP candidates and their operatives.

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