A smirking Chuck Swanick – next to a grim-looking President Obama.
That image, which appeared on fliers that landed in the mailboxes of voters in the State Senate’s 60th District this week, became a topic of contention between the candidates for the seat in a live video debate Friday at The Buffalo News.
“This went to Republican and Conservative voters in this district,” charged Swanick, who brandished a copy of the double-sided, glossy flier after the 37-minute debate.
The mailer bore the tagline: “Two Liberals. Two Democrats. Too Costly.”
“It’s extremely racist, and it’s out of line in any campaign,” Swanick said, because it makes both of them, particularly the president, look sinister.
Swanick, a Town of Tonawanda resident and former County Legislature chairman who is running for the 60th State Senate seat on the Conservative line, called the flier an attack on his largely grassroots campaign by the well-funded campaign of incumbent Republican Mark J. Grisanti.
Swanick charged that the flier was also the work of Joel Giambra, the former Erie County executive who is known to support and maintain close ties to Grisanti.
Giambra did not return phone calls from The News seeking comment.
But the Grisanti campaign, when reached later in the day, denied that the new anti-Swanick mailer had anything to do with them.
“It is not ours,” a Grisanti spokesman said.
The mailer was paid for by the Erie County Republican Committee and Herd Solutions, The News later learned.
“There is not a single racist overtone in that entire mailing,” Erie County Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy said of the Obama/Swanick flier. “We were drawing the similarity between the president’s agenda and Chuck Swanick. Chuck Swanick is no Conservative. He’s a liberal like Barack Obama.”
“This was a project that was undertaken by the Erie County Republican Committee,” Langworthy said. “I’d do it again tomorrow.”
The three chief candidates for the 60th State Senate seat up for grabs in Tuesday’s election debated at The News in a spirited session Friday morning that included discussion of some issues, such as the local economy but that frequently returned to questions of trustworthiness and integrity.
The debate’s video is available for viewing on The News website, www.buffalonews.com.
Michael L. Amodeo, the Democratic candidate for the seat, used the debate as an opportunity to question Grisanti’s performance in his two years in office – especially on bread-and-butter issues, like the minimum wage.
“He has done nothing to create jobs here in Western New York for the past two years,” said Amodeo, an attorney who lives in Lake View and has never held elective office.
The 60th State Senate District spans a large swath of Erie County, including parts of the City of Buffalo, Grand Island and the Town of Tonawanda, and Southtowns areas including Orchard Park, Hamburg, Evans and Brant.
Swanick, who is retired from a railroad job, called Grisanti’s credibility and integrity into question.
He pointed to the scuffle the incumbent state senator got into at the Seneca Niagara casino earlier this year, as well as the fact that Grisanti filed for bankruptcy in 2005.
“I’ve never filed bankruptcy; I’ve never considered it,” Swanick said. “I pay my bills.”
And Swanick said that Grisanti failed voters in the 60th District when he changed his vote on the issue of gay marriage – which Swanick alleged was done for political expediency, not principle.
“It’s not about what’s right or wrong,” Swanick said. “It’s about money.”
Grisanti said his record as a legislator over the past two years shows that he understands how to bring resources and jobs to Western New York.
“In the last two years, we’ve gotten rid of the dysfunction ... that has plagued us for years,” Grisanti said.
“There are numerous benefits that are coming here to Western New York” since he took office, Grisanti said.
He cited his work on UB 2020, protecting Roswell Park Cancer Institute from cuts and working to bring “research institutions” into the Buffalo area.
Grisanti did not address the Obama/Swanick mailer or the casino scuffle in Friday’s debate. He did speak briefly about his bankruptcy, a Chapter 7 individual filing that happened seven years ago, before he took office.
“I was not a state senator in 2005,” said Grisanti, an attorney who lives in North Buffalo. “I went through some tough financial times. My wife lost her job. We were struggling.”
Grisanti’s credit card debts were wiped out in the case, but his student loans and mortgage debt were not.
“As far as integrity goes,” he said, “my thing is fighting for this district.”
A snapshot of the candidates’ views on some issues that have been percolating in the race:
Amodeo supports raising the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour. Grisanti does not.
Swanick said Friday he would like to see a minimum wage increase on the federal level, so all states share in it equally and New York does not suffer the fallout disproportionately.
Grisanti said he came to a new opinion on it after talking to people and thinking about the issue and stands by his vote to legalize same-sex unions.
Amodeo said that voting for same-sex marriage was the right thing to do and that he would do the same, but that he would not tell the voters one position and then change his stance on an issue.
Swanick said he supports traditional marriage as that between and man and a woman.
Grisanti said he supports the cap on property taxes.
Amodeo said he supports a cap on property taxes and would couple such a cap with mandate relief.
Swanick said property taxes are too high in the region and would be a priority for him.
Politics in Albany
Grisanti spoke Friday of his “great rapport” with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in being key to helping him continue to work for the interests of Western New Yorkers.
Amodeo said that he is “a Democrat, I’ll always be a Democrat,” but did not clarify whether he would caucus in Albany with independent Democrats or party types. “I will caucus with the Democrats,” Amodeo said.
Swanick said his switch of party affiliation a few years back may be an issue for some voters but stressed that most people in the district care about effectiveness, not party politics.