Democrats’ stunning election night victories in Amherst have sent shockwaves across Western New York’s political scene. The vote-heavy town is typically a Republican stronghold, but the unpopularity of Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard led to sweeping losses for Republicans who had previous held both the Supervisor’s office and the Town Board.
Senator Michael Ranzenhofer, 63, has held the 61st district Senate seat since 2009. His tenure has been largely uneventful, and his status as the chamber’s quietest backbencher hasn’t served the district well. Now with Democrats able to perform so effectively in the most populous part of a mostly rural district, Ranzenhofer is panicked for the first time since winning the seat.
Newly elected Supervisor Brian Kulpa is a professional architect who has served as Mayor of the Village of Williamsville, a vocal advocate of infrastructure modernization — including improving access to the New York State Thruway, in order to alleviate traffic bottlenecks on Transit Road. Some operatives argue that Kupla’s momentum could translate into a competitive contest that would — at the very least — cost Republicans millions of dollars to defend the seat.
Others, recognizing the weakness of a Ranzenhofer candidacy, suggest replacing him on the ticket with a fresh face — especially in a political climate that doesn’t much value incumbency. Amherst Town Clerk Marjorie Yeager, Assemblyman Ray Walter, and County Legislator Ed Rath are all seen as strong contenders for the Senate seat, in the event that Ranzenhofer opts to return to his private law practice (which is expected to become a source of controversy this election cycle).
The 61st Senate district stretches along the New York State Thruway, from Amherst to Henrietta. Expanding access to the Thruway with new exits could have an enormous economic development impact for communities situated along the trade route; and could prove to be the potent jobs issue that swings the district to a more infrastructure-oriented Democratic caucus.