Benczkowski may challenge Kennedy to help Grant

The newly elected Cheektowaga town supervisor Diane Benczkowski — considered a rising star in local politics — is thinking about dabbling in state senate politics this year, a source familiar with her thinking tells The Chronicle.

A Benczkowski run for State Senate could help hand the 63rd district seat to County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, a deeply respected political figure known as an honest pillar of the community. She is seen as more deserving of the seat than Kennedy, who is perceived as self interested and aloof.

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Betty Jean Grant is so popular among her Masten and University district constituents that not even a single candidate contested her reelection. She has repeatedly won landslide reelection campaigns and has come within 400 votes of the 63rd district state senate seat, despite being overspent by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The 63rd district is a fascinating political predicament, drawn to encompass three of the region’s most politically influential communities: the Black community on Buffalo’s Eastside; the Polish community in Cheektowaga; and the Irish community in South Buffalo.

In a three way contest, the district is a toss up — but with a distinct edge in favor of Grant, whose community is well organized and well mobilized.

“Betty Jean Grant is the kind of politician that can mobilize tens of thousands of voters and not need to raise money to do it,” explains one political operative. “That is powerful and allows her to be one of the community’s only truly independent voices.”

Benczkowski has a long political future and was just elected to a four year term. A low budget campaign for state senate would raise her political profile in the region and help the charismatic newcomer build her brand and wouldn’t be onerous on donors. Losing would be of no consequence, and swinging the race to Grant would earn her the most influential political ally one could have in the Black community.

Observers have floated Benczkowski’s name for various offices, including County Comptroller and County Clerk — races in which Grant could prove a decisive ally.

Kennedy is so worried about the possibility that, a source close to Democratic headquarters says, he is preparing to hire Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner on his state senate staff.

Kennedy is aligned with the opposition faction of Democrats formerly led by G. Steven Pigeon and such a hiring would represent a stunning alignment of interests that experts say could signify the demise of Pigeon’s influence as an opposition leader in local politics.

Zellner’s job on Kennedy’s staff is being offered with a guarantee that Zellner will not assist a Benczkowski or Grant candidacy, the source says.


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