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Primary Concerns

It’s a strange September in Erie County politics: The fissures between local factions of the two major parties, especially among Democrats but even among the usually unified Republicans, are wider and more plain to view than ever.

And yet Primary Day is upon us and few voters will find compelling reasons to go to the polls. There are no countywide primaries, except in the race between incumbent Family Court Judge Patricia Maxwell and her challenger, Sharon LoVallo; both are vying for the Republican, Democratic, and Independence party lines in November’s general election. That race won’t inspire a stampede to polling places on Tuesday. There are no primaries for county legislators, despite downsizing from 15 to 11 members, because the redistricting process was so thoroughly blown that a judge ruled there was insufficient time for primaries, and so party leaders will pick their candidates for the general election without the benefit of consulting voters.

There is a scattering of primaries in the towns and villages that are compelling if you happen to live in, for example, Tonawanda and are concerned about who will be the next town clerk. If you live and breathe West Seneca politics, the blood feud between Wally Piotrowski and Sheila Meegan is of interest.

Here in the city, the most potentially compelling race was the challenge to incumbent Fillmore District Councilman Dave Franczyk. But when Larry Adamczyk, a well connected (if not highly regarded) candidate sponsored by Mayor Byron Brown, was stricken from the ballot because he failed to meet residency requirements, the race lost most of its energy. Franczyk’s only challenger now is perpetual candidate Sam Herbert, who claims to have the endorsement of Jesus Christ. It won’t be enough.

Up in the North District, incumbent Joe Golombek is facing a tomato can in Kenneth Phillips. Nothing against the challenger, but he was pushed too quickly into a race he hadn’t trained for.

In the University District, there’s three-way primary that could be good, save for one factor. In another year, incumbent Bonnie Russell might have some trouble handling the dual challenge presented by former school board member Pamela Cahill, an African-American woman with significant political support and experience, and the curveball that is Rochelle Ricchiazzi, an unknown 19-year-old whose brother, Matthew Richiazzi, ran a similarly themed outsider race for mayor in 2009. But this year is blessed for Bonnie: Her immensely popular husband, City Court Judge Robert Russell, is up for re-election to a new 10-year term. Unless something positively Grisanti-like unfolds, which is not impossible, she should ride his coattails.

The most interesting primaries in Buffalo are, in fact, those for city court judge, where the local party machines seem determined to re-elect four incumbents—Russell, Susan Eagan, Joseph Fiorella, and David Manz—to the four seats up for grabs. There are two strong challengers: Diane Wray, who is well liked in Democratic circles (she was a zone chair up in North Buffalo) and respected in her field; and Gillian Brown, an attorney with Collucci & Gallaher and former counsel to and interim executive director of BMHA, who is also well known and well regarded.

Brown was removed from the Democratic primary based on objections to the validity of his nominating petition. He remains on the Working Families Party primary ballot, and has that party’s endorsement. He might, if enough WFP voters help, survive to make a strong run against the incumbents in November. Wray, along with fellow Democrat Anthony Pendergrass, faces long odds in the Democratic primary, but support for her is deep among local Democratic activists—the very people who most often vote in primaries. Russell is safe. The rest—beware.

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