With headline-grabbing proposals like requiring drug tests for welfare recipients and frat-house campaign gimmicks like phony websites, Republican state Sen. Greg Ball has earned a reputation as a flamboyant maverick since he was elected to the state Senate two years ago, at times angering Democrats and even some members of his own party.
The 35-year-old Ball embraces the maverick label and says he's "not interested in Albany's partisan politics."
"My sole focus has been on job creation, lowering taxes and working with our critical Senate majority and with Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo to get New York back on track," the Patterson lawmaker says during a recent interview with Newsday.com.
A former Air Force officer, Ball was elected to the 40th Senate District seat in November 2010 after winning a GOP primary and then beating Westchester County Democrat Michael Kaplowitz in the general election by about 2,000 votes. This year's statewide redistricting made his sprawling Hudson Valley district more Democratic, with registered Democrats outnumbering registered Republicans by a margin of 7,000. The district includes a large swath of Putnam County and parts of Westchester and Dutchess counties.
Ball makes a case for maintaining the Senate's GOP majority, ticking off a list of accomplishments such as lowering the tax burden, partially repealing the MTA tax and passing legislation to promote job growth in the state.
WAGNER TALKS ABOUT 'ANTICS'
His Democratic challenger, Justin Wagner, criticizes Ball's "antics" as "childish" and "unbefitting of a senator." He says Cuomo needs more Democrats in the Senate to push through much-needed reforms to boost the economy.
"He's focused too much on style, rather than substance," Wagner says of Ball. "We're focusing on the issues that really matter to people, like mandate relief and increasing the minimum wage. And Gov. Cuomo needs better allies in the Hudson Valley."
The contentious race between Ball and Wagner is considered one of the most competitive state Senate contests in New York. Both parties are pumping money and resources into the race. Republicans now control the Senate 33-29.
Wagner, 31, grew up in a middle-class family in Dutchess County. His mother is a schoolteacher and his father an engineer at IBM in Fishkill. It is his first run for public office, pursuing an interest he traces to a visit by then-President Bill Clinton to his school, Arlington High School in LaGrange.
He remembers Clinton talking to students about public service.
"It made me realize that I had a responsibility to step up and make sure the future is bright," Wagner says.
He graduated from Georgetown Law School and returned to New York to build a career as an attorney. He now lives in Croton-on-Hudson with his wife and 14-month-old daughter, Samantha. More formal than his rambunctious Republican rival, Wagner typically shows up for campaign appearances in a suit, sometimes with a tie.
A FADED YANKEES HAT
Ball grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Pawling. His father was a postal worker and his mother worked at a psychiatric facility. He says his upbringing has given him an understanding of the economic challenges most New Yorkers face. Athletic and energetic, Ball says he likes to run, hike, ride horses and target-shoot in his free time.
With a country-boy smile and chiseled good looks, Ball often ditches the suit for blue jeans, a denim jacket and his signature faded Yankees hat. His slogans strike a folksy, populist tone: "Greg Ball: Gettin' it Done."
His campaign staff members are known for confrontational and sometimes comical tactics. They invaded Wagner's campaign offices and accused him of supporting hydrofracking. They set up a fake website -- "WackyWagner.com" -- and used it to criticize the Democrat challenger for his positions on property taxes, abortion rights and illegal immigration.
Wagner has filed a complaint with the Westchester County district attorney's office over an email that Ball's campaign sent, claiming that the email impersonated him. According to the suit, the email directed recipients to the "WackyWagner" site and the site "distorted his views."
Some of Ball's attacks have focused on Wagner's Manhattan law firm -- Weil, Gotshal and Manges -- a firm that represents major energy companies involved in fracking. He has called Wagner a "front for a New York City law firm." Fracking is a process that fractures rock formations deep in the earth to facilitate extraction of oil and gas.
Ball stands behind his campaign ads.
"Politics is a tough business, and campaigns are tough," he says. "But these aren't personal attacks."
Wagner says he has no control over which cases his law firm accepts and says he doesn't support hydrofracking.
"It's just more of the typical Greg Ball gutter politics that people have become used to," he says.
Ball says Wagner's campaign is behind a round of negative mailers suggesting that he was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force, a claim he called "not only false but insulting."
Ball has outraised and outspent Wagner, according to recent campaign filings, with $151,702 left in his campaign funds as of Sept. 30, compared with $136,858 for Wagner.
Senate District 40
NAME of CANDIDATE: Greg Ball
PARTY: Republican, Conservative, Independence
POSITION: State Senate
DISTRICT: 40th Senate District
BIO: Ball, 35, was elected to the state Senate in 2011 after serving in the state Assembly from 2007 to 2010. He is a former business executive and active-duty Air Force officer who lives in Carmel.
FACEBOOK PAGE URL: http://www.facebook.com/ball4ny
TWISTER HANDLE: @ball4ny
CAMPAIGN HQ ADDRESS: New Yorkers on the Ball, P.O. Box 607, Pawling, NY
NAME of CANDIDATE: Justin Wagner
PARTY: Democrat, Green, Working Families
POSITION: State Senate
DISTRICT: 40th Senate District
BIO: Wagner, 31, is a Manhattan-based attorney at the law firm of Weil, Gotshal and Manges, where he works as a litigation associate in the firm's Complex Commercial Litigation group. He lives in the village of Croton-on-Hudson (Town of Cortlandt) with his wife, Christine, and daughter.
FACEBOOK PAGE URL: http://www.facebook.com/JustinWagnerForSenate
TWISTER HANDLE: @JustinWagner12
CAMPAIGN HQ ADDRESS: 826 South St., Peekskill; 15 Kirby Plaza, Mount Kisco; 4 Main St., Brewster