One is the incumbent and closely aligned with the governor's top appointed representative in Buffalo.
The second is a longtime civic activist and political maverick who has run for office several times without success.
And the third is a four-term commissioner for the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.
On Sept. 13, Democratic voters in the new 149th Assembly District will choose from the three - Sean M. Ryan, Kevin P. Gaughan and Joseph A. Mascia, respectively.
Whoever wins the primary is likely to win in November because the district, which encompasses North Buffalo, Lackawanna and Hamburg, is overwhelmingly Democratic.
Ryan won the seat in a special election in 2011, after longtime Assemblyman Sam Hoyt was appointed to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's economic-development team. Party leaders chose Ryan to run as Hoyt's successor.
Ryan's opponents are now trying to paint him as a political insider who bases decisions on what Albany wants and not what the people need. Ryan, however, says that there is no evidence to support that and that his 20-year career as a public interest lawyer and nonprofit leader has allowed him to represent the people well.
Although specifics differed in each candidate's platform, one message came loud and clear from all three: Elect me, and you'll get a representative who is truly for the people.
Here are some highlights of each candidate's background and platform:
During his tenure as a public interest lawyer, Ryan worked with groups with advocacies such as civil rights and children with disabilities. For the four years before he was elected, he started a nonprofit that rehabilitated vacant housing.
When Hoyt left office, Ryan decided to run for the seat because he thought he could make a bigger difference in the lives of more people as an elected official.
"I've been at advocacy work for a long time. So now instead of advocating for a client, I'm advocating for a large part of our community," said Ryan, 47, who also has long ties to the West Side political organization maintained by Hoyt.
Although he has been in office for only a year, Ryan points to a record of setting attainable goals and achieving them.
He cites the following as accomplishments in his short tenure:
. Reforming the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. He fought cuts to transportation routes that community members depend on, and championed the sale of outer harbor property from the NFTA to a state-run agency.
. Increasing the Historic Tax Credit, which helped renovate the landmark Hotel Lafayette into the Hotel @ the Lafayette, from $5 million to $12 million. He brought the idea to Cuomo, then convinced a majority of Assembly members to vote for it. The tax credit will help improve a number of buildings in downtown Buffalo.
. Championing legislation to fight prescription drug abuse and build better resources for fighting addiction.
Ryan also has been an advocate alongside Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz for reforming the Industrial Development Agency system, which he says wastes taxpayer money. He would like to consolidate the county's five IDAs into one serving the entire area.
He believes he's the right candidate for the job because he has a record of success and understands the needs of the community. When he knocks on doors, he said, he's shocked by how many families have two full-time employed adults yet still qualify for food stamps and other assistance programs because their wages are so low. He supports raising the minimum wage.
"To me, that's not the American deal. The American deal is if you work full time, you should be able to support your family and live in dignity. I understand those issues," he said. "But I also understand what is realistic and what is achievable."
Gaughan, 58, an attorney, has for years campaigned for downsizing government, a cause he says he would take to Albany if elected.
Under his leadership, citizens have voted to downsize government in three counties, six towns and one village. Town boards in Hamburg and West Seneca, for example, have reduced from five members to three.
But these reductions have met some controversy.
Under the Opening Meetings Law, a majority of board members cannot discuss public matters without giving advance notice to the public. This means that two members can't bounce ideas off each other over coffee without violating the law. Board members in places such as West Seneca and Alden, for example, have said the downsizing means more work for members, who only make part-time salaries. This has led to pay raises in some areas, which goes against the fundamental goal of the downsizing.
In response to these criticisms, Gaughan said that an overwhelming majority of citizens voted for the downsizing and that the number of elected officials in Erie County is far more than other areas across the country with a similar population.
Making government less expensive and more efficient is one step toward tackling what Gaughan believes is the biggest problem facing the area: a rapidly declining population, particularly the loss of young people.
If elected, Gaughan plans to tackle issues such as:
. Reducing the State Senate from 63 seats to 50 and the Assembly from 150 to 125 seats, which he says would save taxpayers $88 million per year. He also plans to introduce legislation that would prohibit part-time politicians from receiving lifetime pensions, and would reduce his own salary by $20,000.
. Reinvent public education, including better addressing the needs of immigrant populations and determining the appropriate role of the state government.
. Rein in bloated state authorities, such as the NFTA and the state Thruway Authority. Gaughan doesn't believe that Ryan can make honest decisions regarding the NFTA because he accepted a $2,500 campaign contribution from NFTA Chairman Howard A. Zemsky. Ryan disputes this, saying he has been a fierce critic of the NFTA and that he is proud to have Zemsky's support because they have built a positive relationship based on similar objectives that best suit the needs of the community.
In addition to these three issues, Gaughan supports raising the minimum wage and opposes hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
Gaughan said he would restore a "sense of humility" to government service and would stop practicing law if elected.
"I'm not running to be someone; I'm running to do something," he said. "I've shown I can do it on a local level, and I want to bring those skill sets to Albany."
In the last three elections for the Housing Authority, Mascia has run on a simple platform: "If you don't think I've done a good job, don't elect me."
Mascia, 67, has won election to the BMHA four times and was a cement worker for the city of Buffalo until retirement. He also serves as chairman of the Joint Commission to Investigate the Reorganization of the Buffalo Police.
He said the issues he feels strongly about include:
. Opposing the Peace Bridge Plaza expansion, because he does not believe that it will solve the health problems affecting nearby residents due to vehicle emissions. Furthermore, he says, giving more authority to the agency will not make the development accountable to voters.
. Transferring authority of the outer harbor from the NFTA back to the City of Buffalo rather than a state agency, which Ryan champions. From there, he said, the city should organize a private-public partnership, with public dollars focusing on improving infrastructure matched by private funding for other improvements.
Mascia also laid out concerns facing each community. Lackawanna, for example, needs repairs to infrastructure and better public housing. In Hamburg, he says, the downsizing that Gaughan championed has crippled the government's effectiveness. In the Elmwood corridor, he said Kaleida Health needs to put forth a comprehensive plan for reuse before moving Women & Children's Hospital.
Above all, Mascia says, he will be an independent voice in Albany and bring his understanding of the people's needs and a commitment to the future to the capital.