The low-profile race for the 61st State Senate District seat pits a two-term incumbent against a financially challenged opponent.
Republican Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer, 58, won the seat in 2008 and now enjoys all the benefits of incumbency. That includes a load of endorsements from business groups and unions, and campaign contributions of roughly $290,000.
His Democratic opponent, Newstead Town Councilman Justin Rooney, meanwhile, has raised less than $5,000 and said he is counting on the power of grass-roots, door-to-door campaigning in a David-versus-Goliath race. He is also running on the Working Families Party line.
Rooney, 35, said he doesn’t mind being taken for granted because the less effort Ranzenhofer puts into his re-election campaign, the greater the chances for Rooney’s success.
“I think we’re in the right position to do an upset,” he said. “I am the average Joe candidate that has put in the time and effort. I still believe that anyone can run and win.”
Both candidates will be on the ballot in a broad, redrawn district that no longer includes the City and Town of Tonawanda but picks up two towns in Monroe County, as well as part of the City of Rochester. The 61st District still includes all of Amherst, Clarence and Newstead in Erie County, and all of Genesee County.
The Democratic enrollment slightly exceeds Republican enrollment in the 61st District. Ranzenhofer, however, also carries Conservative and Independence party endorsements, which account for another 12,000 potential votes.
“I work cooperatively, in a bipartisan way, with my fellow senators and the governor to produce real results for the residents I represent,” said Ranzenhofer.
Rooney, an Akron resident and GEICO employee, said that as a Newstead councilman for the past six years, he has lowered the general town tax, supported construction of the joint highway facility and courts building, and successfully worked with members of the opposite party to accomplish town business.
As a state senator, Rooney said, he would work to combine state services to save money, repeal the additional State Senate district created by Republicans and work to create a single primary date for both state and federal offices to save taxpayers money.
“I’m going to try to reduce the State Senate, not increase it,” he said.
Ranzenhofer, an Amherst resident and lawyer who served as an Erie County legislator from 1989 to 2008, said he supported two on-time state budgets as state senator that lowered spending, cut middle-class tax rates and limited property tax growth. He also secured millions of dollars for manufacturing-related projects in Genesee County and supported restoring money for prescription assistance to low-income seniors, he said.
“We’re running a very positive campaign, focusing on our accomplishments,” he said.
If re-elected, he said, he will continue to close budget gaps with on-time state budgets that cut spending, support passage of the State Senate’s New NY Job Creation Plan and push for additional state mandate relief to municipalities.