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Kennedy to fill vacant House seat in western New York

State lawmaker who worked at nursing homes before politics to replace Higgins

Democratic state Sen. Tim Kennedy, seen at the 2023 St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City with state Attorney General Letitia James, won a special election Tuesday to fill the vacant 26th District seat in the House.
Democratic state Sen. Tim Kennedy, seen at the 2023 St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City with state Attorney General Letitia James, won a special election Tuesday to fill the vacant 26th District seat in the House. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images)

A state legislator and advocate for stricter gun laws won an open seat in the House on Tuesday when voters in western New York’s 26th District elected Democratic state Sen. Tim Kennedy to succeed former Rep. Brian Higgins, who resigned in February.

Kennedy was leading West Seneca Town Supervisor Gary Dickson, the Republican nominee, by more than 50 percentage points when The Associated Press called the race at 9:17 p.m.

Kennedy, 47, served in the state Senate for more than a decade. He describes himself as a solidly Democratic politician focused on promoting liberal policies. He pushed for stricter state gun laws after a racially motivated mass shooting in his district at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo in May 2022.

He grew up in Buffalo amid a time of economic upheaval. Bethlehem Steel decided to close its operations in the area in the 1980s, resulting in a significant economic downturn.

“It was a time still in Buffalo when my generation was fleeing by the tens of thousands because they couldn’t find a job,” he said.

An occupational therapist before running for office, Kennedy worked in nursing homes and with children with disabilities. He says his work in the health care field taught him to think outside the box to solve problems.

He overlapped with a number of his new colleagues during his time in Albany, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. Kennedy was a member of the New York Senate during the last few years of Jeffries’ tenure in the Assembly.

Kennedy had a significant fundraising advantage in the district, which in its current configuration would have backed President Joe Biden over former President Donald Trump by more than 23 percentage points in 2020. His campaign had taken in almost $1.7 million and had $654,000 on hand on April 10, according to disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission, compared with $35,000 raised and $14,000 cash on hand for Dickson.

Kennedy will serve the remainder of the current term of Higgins, a Democrat who was in his 10th term when he resigned in February to become CEO of a performing arts center. Kennedy is also running for a full term. When he is seated, Kennedy will bring the partisan balance in the House to 217 Republicans and 213 Democrats, with five vacancies.

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