Charles M. Swanick has resumed campaigning for the State Senate after losing last month’s Democratic primary for the seat held by Republican Mark J. Grisanti and, for the first time, says he would have opposed legalizing same-sex marriage had he served in Albany for the 2011 vote that approved it.
Despite the Democratic primary loss, Swanick is running as the Conservative Party candidate.
He has won elections during his political career on the Democratic, Republican and minor party lines (Conservative and Independence) in a career that included chairmanship of the Erie County Legislature.
While he acknowledged to The Buffalo News editorial board this week that he faces a “daunting” challenge, he is conducting a walking campaign that has so far taken him to the front doors of about 7,000 homes.
“I’m deeply concerned about New York State’s loss of population and economic strength,” he said. “It’s continuing, and some would say it’s gaining steam.”
He outlined a platform revolving mainly around economic development and education, adding he is reluctant to get mired in the debate surrounding same-sex marriage. He said he now views it as a matter of settled policy and law.
But he also acknowledged he was addressing the issue for the first time.
“I would have voted against it,” he said, adding that should the issue be brought to another vote, he favors a referendum, though the State Constitution lacks a provision for such a vote.
Swanick, who earlier this year retired from a longtime career as a locomotive engineer to run for the Senate, was viewed in many quarters as a strong candidate because of his high name recognition and a reputation for constituent services.
Michael L. Amodeo, who had the backing of Erie County Democratic Party leaders, easily defeated Swanick and Alfred T. Coppola in the primary. Swanick on Tuesday reflected on the loss, speaking with a reporter for the first time after weeks of evading questions from The News.
He pointed to the unusual Thursday voting date in the primary and the resulting influence of the party organization in recruiting voters with “a reason to come out” as key reasons for his loss.
“I do think the gay community was involved in this as well,” he said, adding that Grisanti’s spending $1 million in the primary campaign also entered the picture. Grisanti voted for legalizing same-sex marriage.
And while Swanick said he often fares poorly in primaries (he lost the Republican legislative primary in 2003 to Kevin R. Hardwick), he also pointed to winning the general election that year on minor party lines.
“I’m absolutely the underdog here,” he said. “But I’ve never played to lose. And I’ve done it before.”
Swanick outlined several other elements of his platform:
• The need for new controls over “entitlements,” such as a residency clause for welfare recipients.
• A call for tighter supervision of state job incentives, citing tax breaks for the new Premier Liquors facility in Amherst as a mistake.
• Loosening state regulations on business and industry as a way to create jobs.
“We have to decide if what we did in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s is still important and necessary for this state,” he said.
He also said he would devote efforts to education, citing the need for reinvigorated truancy programs.
Swanick said his experience in the County Legislature, especially during the fiscal crisis of 2005, taught him that constituents will accept cuts if they are enforced equally and across the board.
While he said the same principle should be applied to Albany, he would not favor cuts in school aid.
“It’s not the funding,” he said. “It’s the system that needs to be revisited.”
Swanick said his association with the county fiscal crisis that resulted in a hike in county sales tax failed to hinder him then as well as now.
“Those were difficult choices,” he said.
“But at the end of the day I just could not see a massive property tax increase for 300,000 properties. And I don’t think the Legislature wore the financial crisis as much as the executive branch.”
Swanick said it is possible that groups opposing same-sex marriage may still contribute to his campaign as they did during the primary, although he noted that less than three weeks remain until Election Day, Nov. 6.
He also said he will campaign as hard as his limited budget will allow between now and then.
Swanick said he would agree to participate in upcoming debates sponsored by The News and St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute.