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Who's Following Whom

Little was resolved at Monday evening’s meeting of Erie County Democratic party town and zone chairs, held at Curly’s in Lackawanna. The informational meeting, called by Lancaster’s Terry McCracken, was a sort of meet-the-candidates night, in which the two leading contestants in the race to succeed county chairman Len Lenihan made presentations and offered themselves up to party leadership for questions. The first to speak was John Crangle, the Tonawanda party chairman, whose ascent to Lenihan’s seat was supposed to have been negotiated in the three-party peace deal brokered by the state party’s executive director, Charlie King, between three warring, city-based factions of the county party. Second was Cheektowaga’s Frank Max, whose gathering support is beginning to resemble something like momentum. Still, no one is certain yet who has the votes to become the next Democratic Party chair.

• There was a minor fracas at the beginning of the proceedings: Champ Eve, who heads an East Side alliance of Democrats independent of Mayor Byron Brown’s Grassroots coalition, objected to the presence of a couple committee members loyal to the mayor. The meeting was for zone chairs and town chairs only, Eve argued, and the Brown loyalists were neither: They were accompanying Zone 26 Chair Geraldine Ford, a Grassroots member who works in City Hall. A vote was taken and Brown’s people were banished from the room. So much for Charlie King’s peace.

Champ Eve also used the meeting to introduce his fellow Democrats to a potential challenger to incumbent Erie County Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams, whose caucusing with Republicans over the past two years is likely to cost her a chance to run for re-election on the Democratic line in November. The fellow’s name is Tim Hogues, a manager at PCB Piezotronics and a deacon in his church.

The name of another potential candidate in District 1 surfaced this week: Joe Mascia, a resident commissioner at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, who hosted a soiree for Assemblyman Vito Lopez, chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Housing, Tuesday night at Templeton Landing. Lopez was in town to conduct a public hearing in Common Council chambers on affordable housing strategies and funding.

• Here’s the reason Barbara Miller-Williams won’t serve on the Erie County Legislature next year, let alone be its chair: Last Thursday, US District Judge William Skretny settled the contentious matter of the county’s legislative redistricting by imposing a plan of his own devising, informed by the various schemes submitted to legislators and their advisory commission on redistricting over the two absurd, fruitless, and frustrating months in which the task rested with them. (The plan is, on balance, fair; it tilts slightly toward Democrats, who should manage a 7-4 majority in the new 11-seat Legislature, but that seems reasonable given the enrollment advantage Democrats enjoy in the county.) Skretny decided that the process had taken too long to allow for primary elections, and ordered that, instead of candidates petitioning for places on a primary ballot, party leadership should choose the candidates who will compete in November’s general election.

Those selections can be made in one of two ways: A party’s committee members within a given district can choose the party’s candidate for their district, or the party’s executive committee can choose the party’s candidates for all 11 districts. The Democrats are going to go the executive committee route, to the consternation of some rank-and-file committee members, but either method spells trouble for Miller-Williams: The Democratic Party’s executive committee will refuse her the nomination because she abandoned her caucus to work with Republican legislators and Erie County executive Chris Collins, and the district’s committee members would refuse her because they are aligned more with Champ Eve’s coalition than with Grassroots, which has sponsored Miller-Williams’s political career.

Similarly, the two Democratic legislators who once were allied Miller-Williams and the six Republicans, Tim Whalen and Christina Bove, might have trouble with the Democratic Party’s executive committee, even though they’ve migrated back to headquarters now. Prospects are especially bleak for Whalen: He now lives in the same district as Tom Mazur of Cheektowaga, and the district favors Mazur.

• Republican Ed Rath III will not run for re-election, clearing the path for fellow Republican Ray Walter. Skretny’s plan put both incumbents in the same district.

• The Democratic Party’s executive committee will likely choose the party’s candidate for the seat of Assemblyman Mark Schroeder, which Schroeder is resigning to run unopposed for City of Buffalo comptroller. South District Councilman Mickey Kearns was rumored to be standing in line for that seat, per Charlie King’s peace deal, but Kearns does not have enough executive committee or district committee support to guarantee his selection. Some of Kearns’s allies are urging him instead to mount a primary challenge to Congressman Brian Higgins next year.

Chris Fahey, a popular aide to Higgins, has also been mentioned as a successor to Schroeder, but Higgins also lacks sufficient influence on the executive committee. A more probable winner is Lackawanna Mayor Norm Polanski, who has expressed interest in the seat and has supporters on the executive committee.

geoff kelly

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