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Bert Dunn: The Monster Turns on His Creators

The Dunn campaign continues, thanks to the Democrats who helped him create a third-party line on Tuesday's ballot.

When voters go to the polls on Tuesday, they’ll confront three choices for Erie County Sheriff: the Republican incumbent, Tim Howard, whose tenure has been marked by scandals at the Erie County Holding Center; Democrat Dick Dobson, who promises to cut down on overtime by hiring more deputies, among other reforms aimed at raising moral in the department; and Bert Dunn, who lost the Democratic primary to Dobson but continues to campaign for the job on a party line he created, the Law and Order line, using his family’s considerable wealth to flood the airwaves with campaign commercials.

Dunn’s chance of winning are slim, and his continuing campaign is likely to do more damage to Dobson, whose primary victory was narrow, than to Howard, possibly costing Democrats their best chance to unseat a Republican sheriff in several election cycles. This is an especially bitter pill for Erie County Democratic headquarters, who backed Dunn over Dobson.

The aftertaste is made more bitter still by the fact that the petitions that created the Law and Order line that allows Dunn to wage his losing but damaging campaign were circulated largely by Democrats affiliated with headquarters and the chair of the county Democrats, Jeremy Zellner, who needs to win some big races to shore up his embattled chairmanship. More than a third of the more than 2,000 signatures filed to create the line were collected by Democratic headquarters employees; add in the signatures collected by Democratic employees of the county Board of Elections, whose patronage jobs are controlled by party headquarters, and that figure rises to more than half.

Zellner himself collected eight signatures to create the Law and Order line for Dunn. The champion petition circulator was Marisa Bartolotta, with 243 signatures. She works for Zellner at party headquarters.

In creating an extra line on the ballot for Dunn, Democrats hoped to provide non-Democrat voters who are tired of Howard a way to vote for Dunn in the general election without having to vote on the Democratic Party line. It’s not an uncommon tactic around here, where third-party lines are frequently bought and sold by candidates for exactly that purpose.

Democratic headquarters also hoped that Dunn, having lost the primary to a candidate backed by headquarter’s enemies, would have the good grace to give up the Law and Order line and go home, so the party could unite behind one candidate. Instead, they created a monster who now has turned on his creators. Maybe they shouldn’t be surprised, given last spring’s inadvertent revelation that Dunn considers himself a Reagan conservative, dislikes both President Barack Obama and Governor Andrew Cuomo, and was pursuing the Democratic line because he needed major party backing in order to win the race.

What recommended Dunn to Zellner and the Erie County Democratic Committee? Primarily his family’s money—his father founded Bert’s Bikes, so he’d be able to finance his own campaign—and his youth. Both those assets, particularly the former, are deployed against Democrats now.

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