It's turning out to be a nasty end to the 2012 primary election season.
With Primary Day coming up Thursday - moved because of Sept. 11 observations Tuesday - Republicans are clawing at Republicans, and Democrats are beating up Democrats. And much of the infighting takes place in one high-level race - the 60th District - that could go a long way toward deciding control of the State Senate.
Two Assembly contests also have assumed high-profile status, drawing statewide attention westward in an unusually high number of interesting races.
The intriguing contests include incumbent Timothy M. Kennedy against Betty Jean Grant in the 63rd Senate Democratic contest; incumbent George D. Maziarz against Johnny G. Destino in the Republican race for the 62nd Senate; incumbent Sean M. Ryan versus Kevin P. Gaughan and Joseph Mascia in the 149th Assembly Democratic primary; and Daniel Humiston, David Mariacher, David J. Di- Pietro and Chris Lane in the Republican contest for the 147th Assembly District.
But there is no question that the marquee primary race of 2012 is the 60th District race featuring two separate primaries - incumbent Mark J. Grisanti against challenger Kevin T. Stocker on the GOP line, and Charles M. Swanick, Michael L. Amodeo and Alfred T. Coppola on the Democratic side.
The race in its last days is tinged with charges of race baiting, ethnic bashing and even evidence of someone playing the "gay card" after Grisanti last year provided a key vote for the legalization of same sex marriage.
Politico reported Tuesday that a piece attacking Grisanti has been circulating via email, accusing him of being a "political whore" and asking, "How far will a politician go to get in your pants?"
The piece, which resembles direct mail advertising, also portrays two men in photos bordering on pornographic, and it claims to be paid for by the unknown Committee to Save the Erie County Republican Party.
Another piece from an unidentified sponsor portrays Grisanti on a pink postcard clad in a lime green leisure suit, saying he wants to legalize marijuana and emphasizing his vote to legalize gay marriage. The reverse shows a marijuana leaf and two male wedding cake figures.
Still, several Grisanti mailings have been tough on Stocker, accusing him of being a career politician and "ignoring" former President Ronald Reagan's directive: "Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican."
Syracuse political consultant Jack Cookfair, spokesman for the Grisanti campaign, said that he has no problem with tough political charges that are true.
Cookfair estimated that only four of Grisanti's 15 mailings were "negative." He also denied that Grisanti was playing the race card by linking Stocker to former Sen. Antoine M. Thompson - an African-American whom Grisanti beat in 2010.
"That's foolish. This is a guy Mark beat to give the Republicans the majority in the State Senate," Cookfair said. "Without Mark Grisanti, the Democrats are in a better position to regain the majority, and we believe that would lead to all kinds of problems."
Stocker has distributed his own emails that attack the mailings, accusing Grisanti of using "racism and ethnic slurs" in his advertising efforts.
"It may be negative, but he's created the negativity," Stocker said about his own ads. "You've already heard [Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph] Lorigo say he lied, has no integrity and can't be trusted."
He was referring to the Conservative Party decision to endorse Swanick because, the party says, Grisanti broke a promise to vote against same-sex marriage.
Stocker said he did not design any of the ads that link Grisanti to the gay issue, and he said he does not know the origin of the mailings invoking Reagan. And he sees nothing wrong with challenging other Republicans.
"Reagan primaried and debated Republicans," he said. "Debates are healthy."
He also said retired Surrogate Judge Joseph S. Mattina is sponsoring mailings accusing Stocker of anti-Italian prejudice. Mattina was unavailable for comment.
60th Senate Democrats
On the Democratic side, Amodeo, who unsuccessfully ran for the Assembly in 2010, carries the party's endorsement. But Senate Democrats have backed Swanick, former chairman of the County Legislature, as the best hope for taking on the winner of the Republican primary.
Many of Amodeo's pieces link Swanick to former Republican County Executive Joel A. Giambra (with whom he was once aligned) and former Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon, who is actively backing Swanick this year. Swanick cries foul because Giambra has emerged as one of Grisanti's staunchest backers.
"Kick me around the block all you want with Joel Giambra and Steve Pigeon," Swanick said, "but people just don't care about this stuff."
And he defends his negative mailings indicating Amodeo might consider higher pay for New York City legislators because of downstate's cost of living. He calls attacking Amodeo on that issue "valid."
Coppola briefly held the seat after a special election in 1999. He was defeated by current Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown in the 2000 election, and he has run several times to reclaim the seat.
In the Maziarz Senate district based largely in Niagara County, Destino is mounting his second challenge of an incumbent in the past year after unsuccessfully taking on Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster last year - losing by fewer than 700 votes out of 9,500 cast. Maziarz, the Newfane Republican, has long represented all of Niagara County except Niagara Falls.
But the new-look 62nd District now includes the Falls, and Destino hopes to garner a significant number of votes there. In his race against Maziarz - Dyster's chief rival - Destino is backed financially by Buffalo developer and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Carl P. Paladino.
In a candidates forum last week, Destino sought to outflank Maziarz with more conservative positions, calling into question the nine-term senator's relationship with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
"The Senate is in the control of Republicans' hands, but you wouldn't know it," Destino said at the debate. "We've gone along with Gov. Cuomo's liberal, progressive agenda without turning back the tides on being the No. 1 welfare destination in the country."
Maziarz countered by touting his votes for pension and Medicaid reforms and his involvement in the Recharge New York hydroelectric power program. He said 25 percent of his constituent calls have always come from the city.
"Niagara Falls will never be, never has been, at the bottom of my list," Maziarz said.
Grant and Kennedy have been slugging it out in a 63rd Senate race that some observers also label competitive. Grant is a leader in the Erie County Democratic Party and chairwoman of the County Legislature, while Kennedy is closely aligned with Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. The district is 32 percent black and 56 percent white in a race featuring a black candidate and white candidate.
In a recent debate, Grant pointed to disagreements during their time in the County Legislature, using harsh language to link Kennedy to policies of former County Executive Chris Collins, a Republican.
Grant said Kennedy led two other Democrats to form a coalition with Republicans that laid the groundwork for Collins and the GOP to cut money to libraries, day cares and cultural organizations.
"I charge him with being responsible for putting the coalition in place," said Grant.
Kennedy responded that Grant's characterization is misleading, mainly because he voted with the Democrats to oppose those cuts.
In the 149th Assembly, high-level Albany figures have played prominent roles in the Ryan-Gaughan-Mascia face-off. Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy brought Cuomo's endorsement for Ryan to Buffalo on Monday.
Gaughan, meanwhile, early this week was calling for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to end his leadership role after revelations that Silver approved a secret payment of public money to settle a sexual harassment suit against Democratic Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Brooklyn.
In comparison to other races, this one has been conducted on a somewhat gentlemanly level. But all three candidates have registered sharp differences on operation of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and on Ryan's support for NFTA Chairman Howard A. Zemsky. Mascia has focused on creating private-public partnerships in places such as the outer harbor to spur job creation.
In the crowded Republican primary for the 147th Assembly District, voters will choose among Mariacher, a financial adviser from Elma; Humiston, founder of Tanning Bed Inc.; DiPietro, former East Aurora mayor; and Lane, a political newcomer from East Aurora.
Before working as a financial and estate planner, Mariacher was a project manager in family construction and development for almost two decades. Mariacher plans to vote against any new taxes or fees, opposes toll increases and gun limitations, and supports term limits, according to his website. He also would work to create incentives for the farming industry.
Humiston cites his entrepreneurial experiences to show why he would be a successful representative. According to his website, he started and grew his tanning business, which employs 300 people, as well as a software company, and built the first craft mall in Western New York. He's won several citations for his business ventures and started a national trade organization for small businesses. He promotes a history of job creation.
DiPietro has run unsuccessfully for State Senate twice before, in 2008 and 2010.
Paladino is backing him this race after spurning him in 2010, when he earned considerable tea party support.
As mayor of East Aurora, he says, he cut taxes three times. He is campaigning on a pledge to rein in spending and reduce the size of government.
Lane is a recruiter for State Farm Insurance and is running because he believes Albany needs more citizen legislators, not career politicians. He lives in East Aurora with his wife and three children, and he grew up in Wyoming County.