Local attorney and activist Shaqurah Zachary is challenging incumbent State Senator Tim Kennedy, a conservative Democrat who has represented the East Side of Buffalo since it was redistricted to share the 63rd district with South Buffalo.
It was a considerable loss of representation for Buffalo’s African American community. Former Senator Antoine Thompson had been upset in a highly unlikely challenge from Mark Grisanti in 2010, the same year that Kennedy defeated former Senator Bill Stachowski. The district was redrawn in 2011 in a way the diluted the influence of the Black vote, splitting the community in Niagara Falls and Buffalo into two districts.
It’s rumored that civic leader Betty Jean Grant is making it a point to retake the district ahead of redistricting in 2021, to ensure that the community has strong representation in Albany in the next decade. Sources say that Grant recruited Zachary to run and is mobilizing the Unity Coalition, once led by former Assembly Deputy Speaker Arthur Eve, around her candidacy. The political faction is already mobilizing around the candidacy of Leecia Eve, his daughter, for Attorney General.
Some political observers are likening her race to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortes, the proud progressive who defeated longtime moderate incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, despite being far outspent and with vastly greater name recognition. Zarchery — and Eve, for that matter — represent Bernie Sanders’ wing of the party. They are the ‘deep believers’ and make it a point to turn out in party primary contests, the left’s real bastion of influence.
Kennedy is among the most conservative Democrats in the chamber, and his political base in South Buffalo (and to a lesser extent, Cheektowaga) first elected Kennedy because of his conservative bent. When he served in the County Legislature, he outraged Democrats by caucusing with the Republicans to give former County Executive Chris Collins control of the government.
Kennedy has a long history of receiving endorsements and campaign contributions from the Erie County Conservative Party and its Chairman, Ralph Loriego, which troubles many operatives at Democrat headquarters loyal to Chairman Jeremy Zellner, who loathes Loriego. The Conservative Party is seen by many party faithful as swinging majority-Democrat districts to the Republicans, particularly at the local levels.
Kennedy has a strong relationship with the local business community and is waging a well funded primary effort. But that relationship has also included a long and sorted relationship with the fallen political operative G. Steven Pigeon, who was indicted with two associates, Kristy Mazurek and David Pfaff, on campaign finance violations associated with WNY Progressives PAC, a fundraising vehicle that Kennedy contributed $80,000 towards. The operatives used those funds for direct mail that smeared Grant and her political allies vying for County Legislature seats.
On July 23rd, Zachary wrote a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him to exercise his gubernatorial authority to remove Erie County, Sheriff Timothy Howard. There have been 24 deaths at the Erie County Holding Center during his tenure. Conditions at the Holding Center have been the subject of Civil Rights lawsuits from the United States Department of Justice, and the facility has been the subject of a damning series of reports detailing a suicide rate more than five times the national average.
“I believe that elected officials who violate their oaths of office should be held accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. I pledge that I will always fight hard for the safety and well-being being of all the people in the 63rd District,” Zachary wrote.
The Democratic Party primary will be held on Thursday, September 13, 2018.