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Grant vs. Kennedy Starts Early in the Pages of the Buffalo News

The rematch begins: State Senator Tim Kennedy vs. Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant.

In 2012, Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant lost her Democratic primary challenge to State Senator Tim Kennedy by just 156 votes, despite Kennedy’s overwhelming advantages of incumbency and ample campaign cash. Barring some sort of rapprochement between the political factions from which each comes (unlikely) or a scandal enveloping and destroying one or both candidates (also unlikely), Grant will again challenge Kennedy in a Democratic primary this year. And, because she came so close to unseating Kennedy last time on a shoestring, she’ll have material support from Kennedy’s political enemies this time. Those enemies include the Erie County Democratic Committee, whose candidates Kennedy actively tried to undermine last fall, and, according to a piece in the Sunday Buffalo News by political reporter Bob McCarthy, State Senator Jeff Klein.

Klein leads the four-member Independent Democratic Caucus, which shares control of the Senate with the Republicans led by Senator Dean Skelos. According to McCarthy’s reporting, Klein has offered his support to Grant because of the abortion issue: He considers her a more reliable pro-choice vote than Kennedy, who presented himself as a fairly conservative Democrat before he joined the Senate but has espoused more liberal views since. (McCarthy quotes Kennedy describing Klein’s characterization of him as anti-choice as “obnoxious.”)

Klein’s early support for Grant, if it is genuine, may include the gift of campaign fundraising help that she could sorely use.

It could also become a trap. McCarthy writes:

Meanwhile, Democratic sources say a major battle is already brewing for a seat that could make a difference in constituting a Senate majority in 2015. The sources say Grant will be portrayed as supporting a group that has enabled continued partial control of the Legislature’s upper house by the GOP, and that Grant – an African-American woman – will be seen as opposing a Democratic conference led by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, also an African-American woman.

You can be assured that those “Democratic sources” are Kennedy’s friends, not Grant’s. And if I were a betting man, I’d wager that McCarthy’s source is Kennedy ally Steve Pigeon, or one or more of his associates and allies, who are using McCarthy’s column to plant the seed of a campaign theme intended to counteract the argument that Kennedy is a bad Democrat, a common opinion that gave Grant’s candidacy traction 2012. That opinion is based on several facts: Kennedy caucused with Republicans when he was a county legislator, giving Republican County Executive Chris Collins a compliant majority; Kennedy’s progressive leanings are suspect to many liberals, because, no matter how consistent his voting now, he seems to have discovered those leanings when they became politically necessary; and, finally, because he spent $85,000 this fall in an internecine war between Democrats that helped them lose majority control of the Erie County Legislature and the Erie County Sheriff’s race.

To which Kennedy’s friends seem prepared to argue that it is Grant who is a bad Democrat, one who will join the Independent Democratic Caucus that makes deals with Republicans—a bold bit of jujitsu, considering Kennedy’s record as a county legislator—and disempower another African-American woman.

Add to this the sordid fall of Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, whose resignation makes likely a Democratic primary in a heavily white portion of the Senate district Kennedy represents. The African-American vote nearly undid Kennedy in 2012, and a Cheektowaga primary might help to balance that vote in 2014. When considering the number of Pigeon associates revolving around the sex scandal that led to Gabryszak’s disgrace—attorneys John Bartolomei and Johnny Destino, for example, and Kristy Mazurek, who ran the campaign fund to which Kennedy directed his $85,000 last fall—conspiracy theorists are prone to wonder whether the timing of revelations about Gabryszak’s shameful behavior, hidden and yet known to many for so long, might have been designed to help save Kennedy’s bacon.

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