It’s being rumored among politicos that Senator Mike Ranzenhofer, an unaccomplished backbencher who has held his seat since Mary Lou Rath retired in 2008, may face a primary challenge this cycle. Ranzenholfer has had difficulty articulating a rationale for reelection, without a body of legislative accomplishments or gains for the district to herald — leaving the district vulnerable to a popular Democrat.
Ranzenhofer has been asked privately to consider exiting the contest gracefully, in order to avoid a potentially embarrassing loss for the party in the general election. Operatives have been scurrying to identify a candidate who is capable of defending the district. Party power brokers have been concerned the electorate’s remarkable distaste for incumbents and expected blue wave of left-leaning voter turnout for the midterm congressional elections.
Jay Anderson — a popular former Town Board member and a military veteran — is seen as a much stronger candidate to retain the seat in a year when operatives expect the district to be aggressively contested by a mainline Democrat. He is being lobbied to run for the seat by operatives and is rumored to be Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy’s privately preferred candidate.
Anderson could not be reached for comment.
The 61st Senate district has become increasingly contestable in recent years, and is seen as a ripe pickup opportunity by Democrats following a sweeping electoral shift in Amherst last cycle. Bernie Tolbert, the Democrat running for Sheriff, won the town over Tim Howard, the longtime Republican incumbent; as did Supervisor Brian Kulpa, along with Democrats sweeping the Town Board races.
Amherst is an important battleground in the district, which stretches along the New York State Thruway, Genesee County, and beyond into a splice of Rochester.
Democrat Joan Seamans is a charismatic moderate Democrat, who built her photography studio along Williamsville’s historic Main Street, and enjoys an extensive network of connections in the area’s business community. Her middle-of-the-road message, appeal for unity, and pledge to work for all constituents have worked well in the context of social media and at small political events.
Seamans is a compelling public speaker who has enormous interpersonal skills — capable of charming a room with an attentiveness to every attendee — the kind of skill set that is very powerful in micro-politics, certainly capable of swinging a state legislative district.
Very concerning for Republicans is the possibility that Seamans will campaign with Kupla for new Thruway Access ramps at Youngs Road and Gunnville Roads, a plan that would considerably expedite the daily commutes of Williamsville and Clarence residents, while alleviating traffic congestion on Main Street and along Transit Road.
The issue of increasing access to the New York State Thruway could be a powerful one in the 61st, given how the district stretches along 60 miles of the state roadway. Kulpa was able to mobilize a considerable volume of voters on the issue during his election and he plans to petition the State Department of Transportation for access improvements in the coming months.