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A Separate Peace

One thing seems settled: Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Len Lenihan’s resignation will become fact by the end of the week. Lenihan, who announced his retirement in June, is expected to say his farewells at a party paying tribute to his tenure Thursday evening and leave his post of Friday. The party’s secretary, Erie County Board of Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward, will convene a meeting to vote in a new chair within 30 days of Lenihan’s leaving the post. The leading candidates are Tonawanda’s John Crangle and Cheektowaga’s Frank Max. Increasingly, Max seems to have the votes and the confidence of the committee members. Rumor has it that he now has the blessing of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s political lieutenants, too.

Last Wednesday Charlie King, the executive director of the state’s Democratic Party, called a meeting at Curly’s restaurant in Lackawanna to survey the ruins of the peace deal he’d brokered at Cuomo’s behest, and to determine what might be salvaged. Town and zone chairs were invited. Len Lenihan, the county chairman whose retirement kept receding into the distance, was not invited. This has King’s patience with Lenihan’s equivocation—he’s going, he’s staying, he going after all—and the local party’s incessant feuding run thin.

In effect, King told the party leaders at that meeting to stop acting like school children. So you’re angry at Barbara Miller-Williams for caucusing with Republican legislators and appeasing the Republican county executive, King said. Fine. But be smart. Use her disloyalty and your power to chose county legislature candidates this fall to wring concessions from her and her sponsors, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and the Grassroots political club, in exchange for another term as a legislator. If you cut her loose out of spite, he said, you’re perpetuating the state of war in the party.

A similarly senseless and damaging war is being waged among Democrats over the successor to Assemblyman Mark Schroeder, who is running unopposed for Buffalo comptroller. Schroeder, like Lenihan, keeps changing the date of his resignation from his Assembly seat in an attempt to allow supporters of his faction, led by Congressman Brian Higgins, to control the succession. The Higgins camp could like the seat to fall to an aide to the congressman, Chris Fahey, who is young, sharp, and well liked. On the other hand, there is South District Councilman Mickey Kearns. Kearns’s councilmanic district comprises 60 percent of the Assembly district, and he’s a proven vote-getter: He wins by big margins in South Buffalo. Combined with the name recognition he garnered from his run for mayor in 2011, Kearns makes a formidable candidate should he decide to run for the seat.

But the members of the party’s executive committee favor one of their own, Lackawanna’s mayor, Norm Polanski. Polanski is popular and a decent candidate, but in truth the party leaders favor him because they want to deprive the Higgins camp of a victory and because Kearns has no particular friends on the executive committee. A smart thing to do, if local party leaders were as interested in peace as King seems to be, would be to let Kearns take the seat in order to avoid a costly, divisive primary. Then accommodate the Higgins camp by allowing one of its people—perhaps Erie County Legislator Tim Whalen—take a shot at holding Kearns’s South District seat. Polanski surely could be appeased, and Fahey is young and reasonable and well employed in Higgins’s office: His opportunities will come.

Instead, supporters of all three candidates—Kearns, Fahey, and Polanski—are gnashing their teeth at one another.

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