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Artvoice Weekly Edition » Issue v9n12 (03/25/2010) » Four Questions With...

Sean Cooney: State Senate Candidate

Ever notice that whenever Bob McCarthy, politics columnist for the Buffalo News, refers to the primary challenge faced by State Senator Bill Stachowski, he refers only to Erie County Legislator Tim Kennedy? Omitting the two other Democrats in that race, Sean Cooney and Mike Kuzma?

We have. So let us introduce you to Sean Cooney—attorney, activist, resident of Buffalo’s Lower West Side, candidate for the 58th District State Senate seat. Cooney is a staunch progressive—pro gay marriage, pro IDA reform, pro living wage—who has worked numerous local campaigns, including those of Erie County Legislator Maria Whyte. This is Cooney’s first race for public office.

How did you get into politics?

For the past five years I have been part of a movement to elect new, young, diverse leaders to local offices. In this capacity I have been a leader on many successful grassroots campaigns, been part of the Erie County Charter Review Commission, and helped fight for reform at the local level. This all started when a 28-year-old community activist named Maria Whyte asked me to get involved with her campaign. Being a part of campaigns to elect some of our region’s brightest and most progressive legislators has illustrated that real change can come when a community organizes together and elects leaders with independence.

Why are you running against Bill Stachowski?

I am seeking the 58th State Senate seat because we need to restore trust in state government. The pay-to-play and “three men in the room” systems we currently have lead to corruption, inaction, and government waste. Senator Stachowski has had nearly 30 years to address these obvious and paralyzing problems.

Some folks will argue that in Albany, where seniority is everything, we’d be making a mistake to replace a veteran like Stachowski with a freshman, no matter how talented the new guy or what we might think of the incumbent. How do you counter that argument?

Seniority is everything…everything that is wrong with our state government. So far I have not heard anyone say we should leave Albany alone and not try to fix it—except the incumbents, of course. The only way we are going to change the “three men in a room” and “pay to play” form of government is to elect someone new, someone who has not benefitted themselves from that seniority. If a freshman senator gets a little less pork or patronage than a 30-year incumbent, it might be the only spending cut Senator Stachowski helped bring.

In the past, you’ve been a guy who staffs and directs campaigns but this is your first time as a candidate. A new perspective? New sympathy for the elected?

I always enjoyed working on campaigns with of some of Western New York’s youngest and most genuine reformers. This has given me the perspective to see what happens when the community and voters get involved, i.e. we elect new leaders. Now as the candidate, I have a new perspective. Unlike most politicians, I still have a job to do, representing injured workers at Cantor, Lukasik, Dolce & Panepinto, so in that sense I am very sympathetic to the long days and weekends it requires to bring our message of independence and reform.

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