The Republican primary race for New York's 94th Assembly District pits firebrand incumbent Steve Katz (R-Mohegan Lake) against challenger Dario Gristina (R-Putnam Valley) in a contest that has seen plenty of negative campaigning.
Both candidates have been slugging it out for months in dueling campaign ads and disparaging news releases.
In August, Katz filed a complaint against Gristina with the Westchester Fair Campaign Practices Committee -- which hears election complaints and issues rulings -- for allegedly misleading voters by stating in campaign literature that Katz had "the worst voting record in legislative history" and that he had been labeled a D+ lawmaker, among other claims.
The committee issued a ruling two weeks ago supporting two of Katz's primary claims but rejecting others as "within the realm of political discourse." The ruling isn't backed up with fines or sanctions, but it discredits Gristina's ad claims.
Gristina, 48, a businessman, argues that Katz hasn't been effective as a state lawmaker.
"They call him "Dr. No" in Albany because he votes no on every bill, regardless," Gristina said of Katz's record. "I don't need my elected representative to go to Albany to make a statement. I need them to go there to fix stuff."
If elected, Gristina said he wants to work on easing regulations on business owners to create jobs and reduce the tax burden to help elderly residents and prevent companies from leaving New York for other states that offer more incentives.
"I'm going to focus on saving us money because we need someone to do that," he said.
Although the state's Conservative Party has endorsed Katz, both candidates are seeking the Conservative Party line in the primary through write-in campaigns. Whichever candidate gets the most votes gets the Conservative Party line in November.
The newly reconfigured 94th District includes towns in northern Westchester and Putnam counties.
Katz, 59, a veterinarian running with the backing of the Westchester and Putnam County Republican committees, was elected in 2010. He is running on a record of creating jobs and investment in his district while increasing transparency in Albany. He says he has done the best he can as a freshman Republican in the Democratic-controlled state Assembly.
"I view this election as a referendum on how my constituents feel about I have performed in the past two years," he said. "If they're happy with me, I will get a two extension on my contract. It's as simple as that."
If re-elected, Katz said he wants to push for term limits for lawmakers and reforming the state Assembly's laws. He said the sexual harassment scandal involving Democratic Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Assemblyman Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who brokered a settlement in June with two former female staffers who had accused Lopez of inappropriate touching, shows that the "system in Albany needs ethical reform."
Katz has called for the resignation of Silver and more transparency from the Assembly's rules on settlements.
"This guy had the nerve to look voters in the eye and say that giving hush money was legal and ethical," Katz said.
As for his primary opponent, Katz also claims that Gristina has a criminal record, pointing out that he was arrested in 1998 for allegedly soliciting a prostitute. Gristina pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, which is a noncriminal violation.
The Putnam Valley man also was accused of stopping a car full of teenagers in March who were allegedly speeding through Mahopac and identifying himself as an undercover police officer. One of the teens filed a complaint against Gristina.
The Carmel Police Department turned the complaint over to the Putnam County district attorney's office, which requested the special prosecutor. Last week, the prosecutor ruled that Gristina committed no crime and dropped the charges.
His name also was in the headlines earlier in 2012 after his ex-wife, Anna Gristina, who lives in Monroe in Orange County, was accused of running a high-priced Manhattan prostitution service. They have one son together.
He said Katz has been dredging up his past problems to discredit his candidacy.
"When you don't have a record to run on, that's what you do, attack the other candidate," he said.
Gristina has accumulated more than $200,000 in campaign funds, but $77,000 of that came from loans. He has spent a huge chunk of that money on campaigning and paying off loans. Katz has raised $22,495 and spent all but $2,142 to date.
Whoever emerges from the primary will face Democrat Andrew Falk, a Carmel attorney, in the Nov. 6 general election.