Lawsuit, Not Gay Marriage, Led To Alesi’s Downfall

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The decision by Sen. James Alesi, R-Perinton, Monroe County, to not seek re-election is mainly due to his huge gaffe last year of filing a lawsuit against a couple in his district after he trespassed on their property and broke this leg, Alesi and others said.

“It’s not really about Jim Alesi,” he said in an interview with Gannett’s Albany Bureau last night. “It’s about not wanting to risk going head to head with another Republican and risking the seat in a new district.”

Alesi, 64, first elected in 1996, gained statewide attention last year when he was the first Senate Republican to say he would vote in favor of same-sex marriage. He was ultimately one of four Republican senators to support the bill, which became law last June.

But Alesi’s re-election prospects were viewed as dim because of a lawsuit he filed in 2011 against a couple in his district after he trespassed on the couple’s property and broke his leg. When the lawsuit became public, Alesi apologized and withdrew it amid the backlash.

But it was only after the Democrat and Chronicle reported on the lawsuit and Alesi was threatened with losing his committee chairmanship that he ultimately relented and dropped the lawsuit, officials said at the time.

Asked if the lawsuit was a key factor in his decision, Alesi said, “You could point to that. There’s absolutely no way of making that go away. I’ve apologized, and every time it comes up I reiterate my apology.”

Alesi faced a primary challenge from Assemblyman Sean Hanna, R-Mendon, Monroe County. Republicans hold a slim 32-30 seat majority in the Senate, and a primary battle would have given Democrats a better chance at winning the seat, Alesi said.

Hanna is announcing this morning he’s running for the seat, which next year will run through the eastern Monroe County suburbs and into Ontario County. Monroe County legislator Ted O’Brien, the former chairman of the county Democratic committee, is running on the Democratic line.

Bill Nojay, the former Republican chairman of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, is expected to run for Hanna’s seat and announce his plans Friday. Richard Burke, the former mayor of Avon, Livingston County, is also seeking the Republican nod for the Assembly seat.

Alesi had previously ran with the support of the county Conservative Party, but the party vowed not to endorse any candidate who backed same-sex marriage. They were planning to back Hanna.

County GOP chairman Bill Reilich said last night that Alesi’s undoing was the lawsuit. Reilich, who blasted Alesi when the lawsuit was filed, said he did not believe Alesi could win re-election.

“I think the decision he has come to was the right one,” Reilich said. “He recognized that he made a mistake, he apologized for that mistake, but it still resonated with the voters. And he understood that.”

Alesi told YNN’s Capital Tonight that he wasn’t pressured into his decision. He said he would serve the remainder of his term, which runs until year’s end.

Most insiders believed Alesi’s support of same-sex marriage would probably be a wash with voters. He’d lose some support among conservative Republicans, but he would gain support among some Democrats — particularly since the district added more voters in the city of Rochester.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, praised Alesi’s service and said in a statement that “I was sad to learn the news, but respect his decision and wish him the best.”

Skelos added, “I am confident that if he had decided to run, he would have been re-elected.”

Alesi was feted by gay-rights groups for his support of same-sex marriage. He appeared at Gracie Mansion with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a supporter of same-sex marriage, and was praised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who worked with Alesi and other GOP senators to pass the bill in the chamber.

Alesi received campaign contributions from gay-rights advocates across the country, helping him build a campaign warchest of nearly $470,000, state records show.

Advocates had said they would defend Alesi against criticism over his vote on same-sex marriage, but even those groups were unsure if the fallout from the lawsuit would overshadow their support.

Asked in March about local issues at play in Alesi’s re-election, Erica Pelletreau, a spokeswoman for the Empire State Pride Agenda, said, “We will do what we can to protect those who voted for marriage to make sure they don’t lose their seats because of that vote.”

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