Local Republicans are giddy that Amherst Supervisor Brian Kulpa is preparing to primary businesswoman and fellow Democrat Joan Seamans in the 61st State Senate District, where incumbent Republican Michael Ranzenhofer announced that he will not seek reelection next year.
Kulpa has waged what some have called a “sadistic pursuit” of a parcel of land owned by John Catsimatidis, the owner of a popular grocery chain in New York City and the Red Apple chain of gas stations. Kulpa, an urban planner by training, has long wanted to develop Catsimatidis’ parcel, located at the corner of Kenmore Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard in the Town of Amherst.
Observers have called Kulpa’s use of eminent domain abusive and freighting. The episode is said to have stunned the New York grocer. Those familiar with his thinking say that the billionaire is “afraid” to ever invest in Western New York again.
In the event that Kulpa is the Democratic nominee in the general election, it’s expected that Catsimatidis would flood the district with issue ads about eminent domain and abuse of power. In the conservative and mostly rural 61st district, eminent domain is wildly unpopular.
But it’s unclear that Kulpa will ever make it to a general election. His far-left leanings and proclivities for central planning are out of step with the district’s voters, who are generally moderate in style and centrist in policy perspectives. Kulpa’s calls for billion-dollar mass transit investments may be a hard sell because most folks in the district live in areas too remote to benefit.
Joan Seamans is a Williamsville businesswoman and former Village Trustee who nearly defeated Ranzenhofer in the last election. A four-point swing of voter intention would have unseated the nearly ten-year incumbent. It was a fantastic showing for a Democrat in a district where Democrats consistently lose the seat by more than 20 percentage points, and sometimes by more than 30 percentage points.
Seamans says her priority will be to deliver on Western New York’s infrastructure needs, including access to high-speed broadband internet in rural communities, supporting education with short distance busing in Rochester, and championing safe staffing legislation to protect senior citizens who are living in nursing homes.
While Kulpa has not yet publicly committed to seeking the primary nomination, it’s widely known that he’s being prodded to run by Peter Reese, the local attorney and political operative who is thought to be in contention for the chairmanship of the Erie County Democratic Party. Reese leads what some have called ‘the Steve Pigeon faction’ of the party, in reference to the former party chairman who battled with headquarters for many years following his tenure.
But some Democrats inside Reese’s own faction of the party are concerned that Kulpa will have a difficult time competing with Seamans on the campaign trail. Kulpa has a more bookish personality, which makes him less approachable. It comes in stark contrast to Seamans, who is a natural communicator with an affable style.
Republicans are torn on identifying a successor to Ranzenhofer, but it’s unlikely to result in a primary. County Legislator Ed Rath III, whose mother held the Senate seat prior to Ranzenhofer, and former Assemblyman Ray Walter have been commonly named as potential nominees. But it could be former Assemblywoman Jane Corwin who emerges from the party’s backroom discussions with the eventual nomination.