Mark Grisanti Campaigns in Downtown Tantrum

Photo by Jill Greenberg

In a few short years, State Senator Mark Grisanti has accomplished what few of his colleagues manage to do in a lifetime of “public service” – he has made a name for himself.  

Depending on whom you ask, he’s either a hero or an infamous traitor. In a way, that’s something for the senator to be proud of. After all, you don’t become an elected representative to blindly poll your constituents and see which way the wind is blowing.  On the contrary, while you should be responsive and available to constituents, you’re supposed to vote your conscience. It’s at the ballot box where your constituents get to tell you whether they agree. 

Grisanti’s change of heart on same-sex marriage is legendary. For supporters of civil rights, he is a hero for coming around on an issue of fairness and equality. For homophobes, he is a traitor because he had once promised not to support marriage. In the end, Grisanti got a boost, same sex marriage is no longer the huge controversy that it used to be, and he was on the right side of history. 

In the wake of the massacre of 20 first graders in Newtown, CT, Governor Cuomo decided to toughen New York’s laws regarding assault weapons and limiting the number of ammunition rounds that can be kept in a magazine. Some prominent recent shootings – Newtown included – saw gunmen carrying veritable arsenals around to do maximum harm in minimum time.  While Cuomo famously said you don’t need 15 bullets to kill a deer, you also don’t need 11 bullets to kill a 6 year-old

Opponents of the SAFE Act point to mental health treatment as the way to stem mass shootings. Gun control advocates likely believe that to be partly true, but expansion publicly funded mental health treatment and intervention don’t appear anywhere in any Republican manifesto of which I’m aware. So, while elected officials decide what they want to do about mental health services, it’s a good idea to make it as hard as possible for people who shouldn’t have weapons to get them. For this, Grisanti is now practically persona non grata

Before NY SAFE, New York already had among the most restrictive set of gun laws in the country. For instance, you’re not allowed to own a handgun unless you apply for – and receive – a permit to do so. New York still enforced the expired federal assault weapons ban, and NY SAFE strengthened it further.  Rifle magazines are never allowed to contain in excess of 7 rounds of ammunition. Semi-automatic rifles or shotguns with certain features (e.g., pistol grip, flash suppressor, bayonet lug, etc.) are banned, but if you owned one prior to the law’s passage, you  get to keep yours. A person’s weapons may be seized if there is probable cause to believe that the person is about to commit a crime or is mentally unstable. In New York State, the government has discretion in issuing pistol permits or conceal carry permits. In New York City, the rules are more restrictive than that. 

What part of “shall not be infringed” do you not understand? 

Well, the right of the people to bear arms is restricted, not infringed. It is up to the courts to determine whether a restriction is a 2nd Amendment infringement. Furthermore, each state’s laws differ on gun ownership and possession. Usually, conservatives cheer that sort of 10th Amendment state’s rights sort of thing, but perhaps that cheering is absent when the states choose policies with which the right does not agree. What came about? Right-wing freakout temper tantrums.

It’s gotten so bad that it’s been rumored that Grisanti’s camp has had preliminary talks with the Erie County Democratic Committee about an endorsement. 

At last weekend’s Republican roundtable, tea party rabblerouser and former congressional candidate Mike Madigan apparently lit into Grisanti as “untrustworthy”. Grand Island Paladino shadow Rus Thompson (R-Tantrum) has threatened to primary Grisanti. Attorney and perennial candidate Kevin Stocker is already trying to reprise his 2012 loss.  At the GOP confab, Grisanti warned

…that the Republicans may lose their hold on the majority in the State Senate. Perhaps warning against a bruising GOP primary for his seat, he noted that four key Cuomo programs are targeted for early passage if the Dems gained control of the chamber: abortion of babies in the 9th month of pregnancy, taxpayer funded elections, fusion voting limitations, and the DREAM Act – free tuition for illegal aliens. Notably, the fusion changes Cuomo seeks could spell the end of the Conservative Party, the endorsement Grisanti has coveted and been denied. 

Oh, joy and rapture. An end to the perverse electoral fusion system that runs on graft, patronage, and confusion would be perhaps the best and most significant change that Governor Cuomo could ever bring about. The Conservative Party yanked its support from Grisanti over same-sex marriage, yet it has astonishingly continued to endorse other candidates who voted for it. Because “principles”. 

Given the hate and vitriol the small minority of ultra right-wing neofascists hurl at Grisanti, he’s not wrong to seek out a possible Democratic endorsement. These loons have labeled Grisanti a “RINO”, which is, to them, worse than being a Maoist, and they have set out to destroy him. They insist on conservative purity, which will go over great in a primary and lead to a catastrophic loss in the general election, because in November, people are generally in the middle. We’re not all gun-hugging omniphobes. 

Ask political choad Chuck Swanick how well he did running against Grisanti on an anti-gay platform in 2012. 

So it looks like it might fall to Canisius Professor and County Legislator Kevin Hardwick to primary Grisanti. Before he was a politician, my image of Hardwick was that he was not unlike Grisanti – an old-school, middle-of-the-road, northeastern Republican. Like a Bill Weld, conservative when it came to spending and taxes, and socially laissez-faire. But to challenge Grisanti, Hardwick is going to have to tack right, and I don’t know how that’s going to come across or how well it’ll do for him in November. 

Either way, chances are that Langworthy’s Republican committee isn’t going to be endorsing Grisanti, ever. They might endorse Hardwick if he runs. Time will tell if they get involved in a primary at all. Hardwick says he doesn’t like the NY SAFE Act, either, and that will be the centerpiece of any Republican challenge mounted against Grisanti. I think Grisanti has an opportunity to talk about the SAFE Act and why he voted the way he did. It could be as simple as pointing out just how much positive attention Governor Cuomo has given western New York since that vote. In an Albany run by Andrew Cuomo, Sheldon Silver, and Dean Skelos, you won’t be particularly effective by going against them. Just ask Mickey Kearns. (Changing the way Albany is run is a different matter, but no one in government makes a serious go of it for a variety of reasons.) Hardwick could end up in Albany, and then what? Is he going to get the SAFE Act repealed? Of course not. The whole thing is silliness. The entire landscape in that senate district is a massive fit of gun-hugging pique. 

The district that Mark Grisanti represents is a predominately Democratic one. 

So, to my mind, I wish Grisanti well. I want legislators like him in Albany and Washington – legislators who do what they think is right, even when it’s unpopular. I want legislators who take a controversial stand and then take the time and intellectual effort to back it up. We can do a lot worse than Mark Grisanti in Albany


  • One of the definitions of infringe is to wrongly limit or restrict something. The SAFE Act clearly falls into that category. It is a law based on emotion and rhetoric, not merit. It was pandering by the Panderer and Chief of our State, It is based on political aspiration, not proven principles. Assault weapons are defined by appearance, not ability. One judge has already ruled the 7 round limit unconstitutional. The law was born from back room politics and secrecy, not the light of day.

    • Don’t forget Andy (I don’t know if Im a Dem or Rep) is running again so you can count on more “pandering based on political aspirations” in the coming months. As for the “Judge” thing…you can buy any number of judges to rule on any number of issues as long as your willing to pay….

  • “An end to the perverse electoral fusion system that runs on graft, patronage, and confusion . . .” A non-fusion system would also be perverse, and would run on graft, patronage, and confusion. The only difference is that more power would be concentrated in the hands of a smaller number of more elite politicians.

  • “Usually, conservatives cheer that sort of 10th Amendment state’s rights sort of thing, but perhaps that cheering is absent when the states choose policies with which the right does not agree. What came about? Right-wing freakout temper tantrums”

    Conservative, or anybody else’s, hypocrisy on the matter matters not. The 14th amendment is plain as day on the issue “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States”

  • Matthew Ricchiazzi

    I hope he’s getting ready to spend another $1.2 million to get through another primary that never should have happened.

    Maybe I’d have more sympathy for him if he wasn’t betraying the Italian community on the West Side by supporting Cuomo’s Peace Bridge plans like an unthinking puppet.

    He’s a third generation criminal defense attorney with a law practice on Niagara at Jersey — and he can’t stand up for the historic Italian neighborhood, or the kids that are getting sick, or the cancer, stroke, an asthma suffers?

    He’s fine defending criminals, but he can’t find the time to stand up for the children at PS 3 on Porter, 1-in-3 of whom suffer from asthma alone?

    He’s doesn’t have political courage where it counts. He goes where the money is, and it’s obviously not where his constituents are, so we get stuck with another NYC-controlled puppet.

    • The Italians moved out of the West Side in the 70s and 80s. And the ones who stayed died in the 90s. It is laughable that you think the West Side is an Italian neighborhood, Matthew.

      • Matthew Ricchiazzi

        Of course there are still Italians on the West Side, though obviously it is now the most diverse and integrated neighborhood in the city it is still a historically Italian neighborhood, Lillian.

        Grisanti has a third generation criminal defense practice on Niagara Street right around the corner from the Peace Bridge. He should be ashamed of himself over how he has turned his back on the neighborhood.

  • “Opponents of the SAFE Act point to mental health treatment as the way to stem mass shootings.”
    A functioning and comprehensive system to insure availability of mental health diagnosis and treatment with appropriate follow up and life long backing is a primary need not currently being addressed in any workable way.
    The problem here is that those who oppose the SAFE Act tend to by largely conservative or even whacko Tea Party types. These are the same people who would voraciously oppose any increase in government spending, any increase in government involvement in anything and being taxed a nickel for anything at all, let alone mental health programs.
    Next time you here an opponent of the SAFE Act pointing to mental health treatment call their bluff. As if they would support any taxation for such.

    • By your line of reasoning, a majority of law enforcement officers are Tea Party types, since the majority of law enforcement officials oppose the SAFE Act.

    • This is completely and blatantly false. Gun control – specifically in WNY – is not even close to being a Liberal vs Conservative issue when it comes to the people. In an overwhelmingly liberal region such as this, most gun owners happen to be Democrats. On gun control, however, those Democrats tend to be single-issue voters and will, without hesitation, turn to any party that holds the same viewpoint.

      I am a registered center-leaning Democrat that is vehemently opposed to the “assault weapon”, magazine, and ammunition sales restrictions of the SAFE act. A majority of the members of the shooting club I am a member of are also registered Democrats.

      I am in support of the mental health provisions of the law, but not as they are written. I feel that they leave too much open for interpretation. I do believe a person’s mental health provider should be able to report them as a danger to themselves or others.

      What I find quite disconcerting – and somewhat telling – is that after the SAFE act was passed, Cuomo decides to close several major psychiatric facilities. One of them, in fact, happens to be in West Seneca. This was done under the guise of consolidation. Cuomo isn’t concerned about mental health. He’s concerned about votes.

      • I could not agree with you more. I’m a registered democrat also because it was required for me to get my job with NYSDOC. We had a democratic governor at the time. I consider myself a pretty centrist individual politically.
        The SAFE Act in reality has very little to do with safety or curtailing gun abuse. It has everything to do with an egotistical and ambitious governor thinking it would further his political ambition.
        The problem we have with individuals like the Sandy Hook or West Webster shooters is in fact a mental health issue. That along with our society seemingly training our youth in violent and deviant behavior. Take a look at the “Grand Theft Auto” video games we seem to allow children to play.
        Safe Act type laws only address mental health issues by requiring tracking of those individuals and not letting them buy guns. Those laws do nothing to enhance the mental health identification and treatment of those who suffer from a disease of an organ that happens to be the brain.
        It’s the height of foolishness to pass laws like the Safe Act, spotty treatment of a symptom and not a treatment for the disease.
        I had very little respect for Andy Cuomo long before he rammed through the Safe Act. Unfortunately the only way we will be rid of him is if Hillary Clinton is our next President and finds some cabinet job for the guy.
        And I don’t know if I could survive listening to Hillary blather for four years.

        • You always seemed like a pretty reasonable guy to me. To say the Safe Act “has very little to do with safety or curtailing gun abuse” just isn’t fair and I can cite two examples. One provision says guns must be safely stored away from felons or someone otherwise a threat (my words). Had Adam Lanza’s mother been so responsible, we would not be talking about this. Another provision says a police officer can confiscate a weapon without a warrant if they think an individual is mentally unstable. This just happened in the Tom Bauerle episode.
          As the process winds its way through the legal system, I imagine the law will be reshaped as it was concerning the 7 bullet issue. But to say it does nothing just rings hollow.

          • I said very little to do with safety…not nothing.
            Lanza’s mother encouraged him in gun use. She could have all her guns locked in a gun safe but she would have let the kid know or see how to access them. Now, if she would have been more perceptive and had her kid evaluated and treated by a psychiatrist that might have made the difference.
            Sometimes laws say pretty things. But the safe storage stuff is unenforceable. How are authorities to know what you do with your firearms in your own house? If the gun owner locks hi guns in a gun safe and also puts trigger locks on them how ready is that gun if a home invasion occurs? How q

          • “If she would have been more perceptive” brings up another point. How is someone that clueless deemed a “responsible gun owner”? Careful what you wish for, if they figure out a way to objectively judge someones mental state it may disarm half the population.
            Anyway as I read it the provision only applies to those who have a felon, domestic abuser or nut case living under their roof. For the guy that feels the need to sleep with a gun under his pillow, it does not apply.

  • I’m reserving judgment until the fate of the Greenway reform bill becomes evident.

  • Hardwick could end up in Albany, and then what? Is he going to get the SAFE Act repealed? Of course not.

    I’d favor and vote for Hardwick or probably pretty much any opponent of the SAFE Act over Grisanti, not because repeal is likely, but because at least such a candidate is less likely than Grisanti to vote for even further weakening of gun rights in the future. It could always be made still worse.

    After he voted for such a terrible law and the 7-bullet limit, I’d have zero trust in Grisanti on the issue no matter what he says now. If Grisanti is on the R line in November, I’ll probably vote for whoever the equally flawed D is just as the only slight protest available against him.

    It’d be good if Hardwick would be “conservative when it came to spending and taxes” as you described your perception of him, although at this point those issues might be a lost cause for NY state government. Grisanti has seemed not significantly conservative on spending or taxes, but probably it wouldn’t make any real impacts in budgets or policies even if he tried to be.

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