By Harold McNeil
News Staff Reporter
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz on Friday backed Betty Jean Grant in the Democratic primary for the 63rd District State Senate seat, weighing in on what is expected to be one of the most tightly contested races before local voters this year.
Grant, currently the minority leader in the Erie County Legislature, seeks to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Timothy Kennedy, who defeated her in a close primary two years ago.
At an event Friday outside the Julia Boyer Reinstein Library in Cheektowaga, Poloncarz commended Grant for her decades of public service and community advocacy, touting the Buffalo Democrat as “the new leadership that the district needs.”
Grant, formerly the Legislature’s chairwoman, in turn expressed her gratitude for Poloncarz’s support in the Senate race.
“When elected, I pledge to work closely with Mark Poloncarz to create jobs, boost our economy and encourage small business growth,” Grant said.
“Mark and I both believe in the Democratic values of hard work, public service and that government can make a difference in people’s lives,” she added.
Kennedy, in a statement, characterized the endorsement as irrelevant.
“This endorsement comes as no surprise, and it’s largely irrelevant. It’s the type of petty politics that people in our community simply don’t care about,” Kennedy said.
While the county executive lauded Grant for her tenure as chairwoman before Republican-aligned members took control of the body this year, Kennedy described Grant as having “presided over one of the most unproductive periods, passing just two laws in two years.”
Kennedy said that during his time in the state Senate Democratic minority, he has been responsible for passing major laws related to Child Protective Services and securing investments aimed at bolstering the local economy, while also creating jobs and repairing roads and bridges.
“I’m sure voters will see through this political endorsement as an order taken from the party bosses to support their chosen candidate,” Kennedy added.
Grant countered by charging that Kennedy brought “disruption and chaos” to the Legislature when he joined a coalition that helped give Republicans de facto control when Kennedy was a member of the body. The result, she said, was the elimination of daycare subsidies and less Operation Primetime funding for disadvantaged youth.
“It also speaks volumes that the person Tim Kennedy handpicked to succeed him the Legislature, Timothy J. Whalen... was at my endorsement meeting today,” Grant added.
Whalen was among Democratic colleagues who previously served with Grant attending Friday’s event for Grant. Also showing up were former legislators Terrence D. McCracken and Thomas J. Mazur.
In May, Grant received the endorsement of the Democratic Party’s executive committee.