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Buffalo News: All Kennedy, All the Time

Kenndy, Grant

Three weeks ago, we ran a short piece on this page called “Grant vs. Kennedy Starts Early in the Pages of the Buffalo News,” commenting on a column by political reporter Bob McCarthy that laid the groundwork for a campaign tactic State Senator Tim Kennedy seemed likely to deploy against his primary challenger this year, Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant: that she’s a bad Democrat who will accept the support of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, which prevents Democrats from holding majority control of the chamber.

This, we noted, was some kind of Jedi mind trick, intended to make us forget that Kennedy, as an Erie County legislator, caucused with Republicans to deny Democrats majority control of that chamber.

Sure enough, a few days later, when Grant formally declared that she would challenge Kennedy, he rolled out the charge, conveniently leaving out the fact that he had happily accepted campaign money from the IDC and its leader, Senator Jeff Klein, in years past. The News didn’t report that; you had to read Artvoice to learn that.

The following Sunday, the News published a long piece by McCarthy chronicling Kennedy’s visits to five African-American churches on Buffalo’s East Side in one day, in an effort to shore up support in the part of the district that voted for Grant in 2012. Grant came within a whisker of beating Kennedy in that primary, though she had virtually no money or campaign staff and Kennedy had plenty of both.

But that wasn’t enough ink for Kennedy: In the same edition, the News published a photograph of Kennedy helping an elderly woman up her church’s stairs on the paper’s picture page. Two days later, a sympathetic Kennedy quote from the article—“When people get to know me and where my mind, heart and work ethic is, they’ll be willing to vote for me”—ran across the top of the News’s op-ed page.

Just four days later, this past Saturday, the News ran another long piece about Kennedy, again written by McCarthy, this time focused on his views on abortion rights. (“State senator balances faith, responsibility” was the subhead, and that somber, laudatory sentence reflects the tone of the piece.) For most of his political career, Kennedy presented himself as a fairly conservative, pro-life Democrat—not unusual for an Irish Catholic from South Buffalo. After he was elected to the Senate in 2010, Kennedy veered to the left on a number of issues, including, apparently, on a woman’s right to choose. The News article accepts Kennedy’s portrayal of this tack as an “evolution.” There is a more cynical characterization to be made—that Kennedy fecklessly adopts any position that will get him re-elected. However, we must take him at his word that he is, like Grant, pro-choice. (This fact rather contradicts McCarthy’s assertion that “the touchy topic of abortion is already dominating the Democratic primary.”) We cannot see into his heart.

What we can see is that the News has lavished ink on Kennedy the candidate over the past three weeks. (On Kennedy the senator, too, in reaction to a string of press releases and bromidic initiatives he has attached himself to, but that coverage is to be expected.) In that same period, Grant the candidate appears in the paper just once under her own headline, in a piece by Anne Neville covering the announcement of her candidacy. In all other cases, she is subordinate to Kennedy; she is perhaps afforded a quote or two low in the articles, but the subject remains Kennedy. This from a newspaper that, unlike this one, wants credit for its objectivity and balance. Our conclusion: Someone at the Buffalo News likes Tim Kennedy, recognizes he’s in deep political trouble this year, and is trying to help him out of it.

Kennedy’s troubles may in fact be multiplying. In addition to facing Grant again—but this time Grant supported by money and campaign staff—we’ve heard that he’ll have a primary opponent from his home turf in South Buffalo, too. Mike Blake, author of the blog Mike Blake’s Unbalanced Opinions and a founder of a popular youth soccer program, is considering entering the race. Blake ran for Common Council in 2001. He’ll pull a lot of votes from Kennedy in South Buffalo, and perhaps some more in Cheektowaga and Lackawanna. Grant’s base in Buffalo’s East Side is unlikely to abandon her, no matter how many black churches Kennedy visits, and even if he actually stays for an entire service. If Blake peels away even a thousand votes from Kennedy, Grant wins.

Kennedy’s camp may try to counter the Blake effect by sponsoring an African-American candidate who will cut into Grant’s base of support. Antoine Thompson, the former state senator who know heads the Buffalo Employment & Training Center, is a likely candidate for that role; Grant ran against Kennedy in 2012 because Thompson decided not to—a decision for which he was awarded his plum of a job. Buffalo’s Challenger newspaper recently offered this take on Thompson’s decision not to run against Kennedy in 2012:

Thompson dropped out at the 11th hour, leaving Kennedy without an opponent. Although he denied the rumor, it was widely believed that Thompson, a member of the Grassroots political organization, only entered the race to block any other African American from running.

We’ve heard that Thompson is trying to marshal support for a run this year, but that he’ll have to leave his federally funded job to become a candidate for office. That’s risky, knowing that some of those who are encouraging him to run are Kennedy supporters who want Thompson to be the spoiler, not the victor. One of these is the man who gave him his job, Mayor Byron Brown, who campaigned for Kennedy in 2012.

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