A one-term City of Tonawanda councilman is the latest challenger to take on a veteran state legislator seeking his 19th term representing the 140th Assembly District.
Charles M. Gilbert, a 41-year-old electrician, represented Tonawanda’s First Ward on the Council from 2009 to 2011. Seeking re-election last fall, he lost a close race that was decided by absentee ballots.
In the Assembly race, Gilbert will appear on the Republican and Working Families lines. His Democratic rival is Assemblyman Robin Schimminger of Kenmore, a 65-year-old lawyer who also has the Conservative and Independence lines.
The district encompasses the City and Town of Tonawanda, the Village of Kenmore, most of North Tonawanda and, under the latest redistricting, part of northwestern Buffalo. Both candidates are lifelong residents of the district.
Compared with other state races, this has been a low-key affair of lawn signs and mailings, old-fashioned pounding the pavement and shaking hands.
It’s also been a low-cost campaign for the challenger. According to the state Board of Elections, Gilbert has reported $8,775 in contributions – $4,000 of which he said came from his own pocket.
No expense reports have been filed.
Meanwhile, Schimminger’s campaign has reported approximately $71,400 in contributions since Jan. 1 and approximately $34,400 in expenses.
As in the campaigns of most challengers to Schimminger before him, Gilbert has come out swinging.
“The big thing is, [Schimminger] says he’s a champion for small business, but we’re the fifth worst state in the country for small business,” Gilbert said, citing a poll by Thumbtack.com and the Kaufmann Foundation, the results of which were reported by CNN in May.
Endorsed by several labor unions, Gilbert added: “The big thing with them is we need to protect our own people here.”
“Robin’s not doing that,” Gilbert said. “He’s not helping small business. He’s not helping labor.”
But Schimminger’s endorsements include Unshackle Upstate and the National Federation of Independent Business, which laud his achievements on small business-related issues. He also was endorsed by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the region’s largest business advocacy group.
Among the accomplishments of Schimminger’s current term, the 36-year incumbent cites the “Innovate NY Fund,” a seed-stage equity fund to support innovative businesses. It was included in the 2011 state budget through a bill sponsored by Schimminger, who heads the Assembly’s Committee on Economic Development.
“There’s a real need for seed funding,” he said. “Companies will be benefiting from it.”
Neither candidate supports a pay raise for the part-time legislators, who currently are paid at least $79,500 annually. But they differ on raising the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour, an issue that may be tied to legislative pay hikes if lawmakers are called back to Albany before the new year.
“There is already a federal minimum wage,” said Schimminger, who voted against the increase when it came up in the Assembly in May.
“We should be looking at ways to make New York State more competitive – not less competitive.”
Gilbert is for increasing the minimum wage – incrementally.
“I think it needs to be done in a way that’s responsible for small business,” he said. Increasing it by $1.25 at once “is just irresponsible,” he said.
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