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Primary Notes

Pat Burke Called His Shot

About a half hour after the polls closed on Tuesday night, I called Pat Burke, who was running in a three-way Democratic primary for the 7th District seat on the Erie County Legislature. It was early going, but Burke had just 17 percent of the vote tallied thus far. “Those are Cheektowaga districts,” the South Buffalo native told me, “and we figured we had to be at about 15 percent in those districts to win, so we’re a little ahead of where we thought we’d be.”

A half hour after that, with South Buffalo votes pouring in and just four districts left to report, Burke had pulled ahead of his two opponents from Cheektowaga, Lynn Dearmyer and Rick Zydel. I called again. “I told you,” he answered.

Indeed he did. He told us two months ago, in fact, how he’d beat Zydel and Dearmyer, the proxies in a war between two warring faction in the local Democratic Party: Because of the mayoral primary and Burke’s popularity in his own neighborhood, the South Buffalo part of the district would vote more heavily than usual; he’d outwork his opponents in unfamiliar Cheektowaga to peel away a few votes and let them split what he couldn’t steal.

It worked just as he’d planned. On Wednesday morning, with 97 percent of the vote counted, he led Dearmyer by 75 votes and Zydel by more than 500. It’s not over—there are still absentee ballots to count, for example—but odds are that Burke has pulled off an upset. More importantly, if the lead holds, he will have demostrated that you don’t need to align yourself with a particular faction in the region’s always balkanized Democratic Party to enter public service. If you’re shrewd and hard-working, you can manage it on your own.

He had help, of course: He was advised by Greg Olma, a former Erie County legislator who knows the district, and he was endorsed by Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder, whose support helped to counter the whispering campaign against Burke launched by State Senator Tim Kennedy, who promised he’d stay out of the race but was actually supporting Zydel. Kennedy did more than just whisper that Burke was unelectable: He donated $85,000 to a PAC called WNY Progressive Caucus that supported Zydel, among other candidates backed by the Democratic faction led by Frank Max, the Cheektowaga town chairman, and aligned with Mayor Byron Brown and former county chairman Steve Pigeon.

If his lead holds and he wins the overwhelmingly Democratic district in November’s general election, Burke will arrive at County Hall virtually free of political debts—a true independent. Couldn’t we use a couple dozen more like that in elected office?

Dick Dobson Beat Bert Dunn

There are votes left to count in this race, too, but it looks good for Dobson, whose lead was nearly 700 votes with 99 percent of districts reporting on Wednesday morning. Dunn hopes to make up ground when the absentee ballots are opened, but that’s a sizable lead to overcome.

Dobson’s apparent win was the biggest loss suffered by Jeremy Zellner, the chair of the Erie County Democratic Party. (The other loss was Pat Burke’s victory, the sting ameliorated by the fact that the candidate supported by Zellner’s rival, Frank Max, finished third in the race. If Tim Hogues loses to Barbara Miller-Williams, that will sting more.) Max’s people were all in for Dobson, and Zellner was fully invested in Dunn, though both campaigns went their own way: Dunn’s campaign was self-financed (richly so) and self-directed, asking for and getting little help from headquarters, according to a source on the Dunn campaign; Dobson’s campaign lacked resources from the beginning, though it benefited from some late expenditures by WNY Progressive Caucus and received some cash from the Max camp.

We reported last week that a source close to Max had told us, with some regret, that he didn’t think the cavalry was coming to save Dobson from all of Dunn’s money. But that same source called Monday evening to say that he’d heard the Dunn campaign was in panic mode: Someone must have done some polling, he said, and it looked like Dunn was losing. And so it came to pass.

Barbara Miller-Williams Rose From the Grave

To recap this race, I defer to the Wednesday morning post written by my colleague, AV Daily’s Alan Bedenko:

Quite possibly the worst transactional legislative horror show ever to jump out at you is leading incumbent Tim Hogues by just 20 votes. This is the woman who sold out to Chris Collins for a big chunk of money for the Colored Musician’s Club — her husband is on its board. With paid-off silence, she collaborated with the Republican dismantling of health clinics and other critical services for her poor urban constituency. She became the de facto head of a Republican legislature that was little more than a Collins marionnette, and if you watched Collins last night, he is one of those right wing scumbags who has nicer things to say about neofascist autocrat Vladimir Putin than his own country’s President. This race is going to be litigated, so it’s not over yet, but simply by making it competitive at all, Miller-Williams shows that she shouldn’t be counted out…Query why she’s still a Democrat, though. That’s what tens of thousands of dollars from Steve Pigeon and Tim Kennedy will buy you…

Frank Max Treaded Water

Like Dobson, Miller-Williams benefited from Mayor Byron Brown’s get-out-the vote machine. If she holds on to her lead, it’ll be a victory for the Brown machine—which was supposed to stay of Erie County Legislature races, as part of a deal whereby Democratic HQ endorsed Brown—more so than for Max. Max scored a big win with Dobson, but his two main candidates for Legislature, Rick Zydel and Wes Moore, both lost.

Jeremy Zellner Did, Too

Things might have gone much worse for Zellner than they did. Wynnie Fisher, his candidate, beat Wes Moore; Betty Jean Grant, his candidate, annihilated her challenger, Joyce Nixon, who comes from Mayor Byron Brown’s camp. One of his Erie County Family Court candidates, Mary Carney, won big; his other candidate, Paul Crapsi, lost to Deanne Tripi. Neither faction can claim to have made much headway. Which means the petty, pointless fighting will continue.

Unions Carried Coals to Newcastle

For some reason, the Washington, DC office of the public employees union AFSCME gave $5,000 to Byron Brown’s re-election campaign on the eve of the primary, which Brown won handily over challenger Bernie Tolbert, and with oceans of money to spare in his campaign account. Why ever would they do such a thing?

Tim Kennedy Gambled

As reported by AV Daily’s Alan Bedenko, the state senator from South Buffalo contributed $85,000 to WNY Progressive Caucus, a PAC formed on August 22 by former Channel 2 political talk show host Kristy Mazurek. (That’s right, former; the show has been put on hiatus as a result of the controversy provoked by Mazurek’s political activity. Rumor has it that other Channel 2 staff may face repercussions for engaging in politics, too.) On September 5, $40,000 came from Kennedy for Senate, the campaign committee that Kennedy formed when he jumped from Erie County Legislature to Albany.

On September 3, $45,000 came from Friends of Tim Kennedy, a campaign committee which was discontinued on September 13, 2011. When Kennedy closed the account, it had $8 in it. So where did the money come from and how did it flow through a committee that has been shut down for two years? We won’t know until January, because Kennedy has not filed any disclosure reports related to this primary election, despite having participated in it through his donations.

Kennedy can count on a Democratic primary next year. He nearly lost to Betty Jean Grant in last year’s primary, so he’s vulnerable. He gambled by working to undermine Pat Burke’s campaign for Erie County Legislature and lost his bet: Now he’s got two elected officials in his own backyard, including Mark Schroeder, who’d be happy to see him booted from office. On top of that, he has won the undying enmity of Democratic headquarters for throwing in with Mazurek and Steve Pigeon.

Kennedy and Mark Grisanti ought to compare the size of the targets they’ve painted on their backs.

WNY Progressive Caucus Raised $268,530

Much of that came from Tim Kennedy and Steve Pigeon. Kennedy’s donations came from his campaign committee; we won’t learn until January, when he files his next disclosure with the state board of elections, whether he was churning other people’s money. Where did Pigeon’s money come from?

Cuomo Rebuked Pigeon

The former chair of the Erie County Democrats attended the Bills season-opener last Sunday against the Patriots in the retinue of Governor Andrew Cuomo. At one point, Pigeon approached the governor and apologized for a mailer that his newly formed PAC, WNY Progressive Caucus, had paid for in Niagara Falls, painting developer Mark Hamister as a con artist. Hamister is working on a sweetheart deal to build a five-story, $25 million mixed-use development with a hotel in the city’s downtown. The deal has been opposed by a triumvirate on the Niagara Falls City Council, led by Sam Fruscione, who, until he finished dead last in his primary Tuesday night, enjoyed Pigeon’s full-throated support.

Leaving aside whether or not Hamister is a con man—we refer you to this paper’s excoriation of his bid to buy the Sabres back in 2002—the mailer evoked fury from Cuomo and Mayor Paul Dyster, both desperate for an entry in the win column for the city.

Several who observed the attempt at an apology tell us that Cuomo fixed Pigeon with any icy stare and said words to the effect of “I just want it built” and turned away.

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