by Geoff Kelly
Cancel that run of “Surge-io!” T-shirts. Forget Stefan Mychajliw’s return to 2 Sides with Kristy Mazurek. Tell Sheriff Tim Howard that the people have spoken on his gross mismanagement of the county’s holding center, and their message is this: Steady as she goes. (And remind Howard to send a note of thanks to Governor Andrew Cuomo for the SAFE Act, which gave Howard something to talk about other than jail breaks and overtime costs.)
Dash off a note of congratulations to Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon for her enduring campaign to provide prom dresses for those who can’t afford them. (Maybe this is the sort of strategy, like self-financing candidates, Democrats might adopt from their political opponents.) Send a postcard to Ted Morton, as well, the defrocked financial manager who unethically “borrowed” more money from his clients than Kevin Gaughan ever earned in a year (then failed to pay taxes on), but was somehow elected to the Erie County Legislature on a platform of fiscal responsibility.
And someone tell Jeremy Zellner, the chair of Erie County’s Democratic Party, to clean out his locker at the Rath Building. His tenure as chief of staff at the Erie County Legislature—a patronage position he swore would never interfere with his political duties, and which allowed him to take no salary as party chair—will be over in January, when a Republican majority takes charge of that body for the first time since 1977.
Given the outcome of Tuesday’s general election, Zellner would show some nerve to ask for that salary next year, in the event that he he completes his term as party chairman.
It was a dreadful election for Erie County Democrats, who enjoy a nearly two-to-one registration advantage over Republicans. Yet the woefully unqualified Mychajliw overwhelmed his Democratic challenger, Gaughan, to win his first full term as Erie County comptroller, which sets him up as a potential challenger to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz in two years. The incredibly vulnerable Howard held on to his office yet again, thanks to the Democrats’ penchant for internecine warfare, which sabotaged the campaign of Democrat Dick Dobson every bit as much as the sore loser Bert Dunn, Zellner’s first choice for sheriff, whom Dobson defeated in the Democratic primary but who continued to campaign anyway, using his family’s money.
Those two losses were not unexpected. Worse was the Republican Morton’s victory over Democrat Wynnie Fisher in the Erie County Legislature’s 8th District, a seat left open by the retirement of a Democrat, Terry McCracken. The incoming six-to-five Republican majority means Democrats will lose not only Zellner’s patronage job but control of patronage positions at the Erie County Water Authority and elsewhere in county government. The new GOP majority will also be in a position to join Mychajliw in nipping at Poloncarz’s heels for the next two years.
That’s a trifecta for Erie County Republicans. When the GOP doyens rolled into Founding Fathers for a celebratory cocktail after midnight on Tuesday—county chairman Nick Langworthy; Erie County Legislator Ed Rath; political operatives Chris Grant, Robert Lichtenthal, and Emilio Colaiacovo; developer Carl Paladino; Mychajliw; and Ed Cox, the state party chairman, here to launch the GOP effort to unseat Cuomo next year—their strutting was justified. They played this one just right. They absorbed some losses to Democrats in town races, but they accomplished their principal goals.
Democratic apologists may shrug off Tuesday’s results, saying, “You win some, you lose some,” but Tuesday’s results reveal a party in utter disarray: It chooses bad candidates, it fails to adequately support good ones, it can’t raise enough money, and too many of its activists spend too much time running around and shooting one another in the foot rather than advancing ideas about good governance to compete with the disciplined Republican message of cutting taxes, cutting spending, cutting government employees—always cutting, even when there is nothing left to cut.
The word is that Poloncarz, who helped engineer Zellner’s ascent to the chairmanship, lately has been reaching out to party factions that are dissatisfied with Zellner, seeking to make some sort of peace. He has to do that: If he doesn’t make some effort to pull the party together, Poloncarz might face not just Mychajliw in 2015 but a primary opponent as well.
That peace will be difficult to find. Support for Zellner’s rival for the chairmanship, Cheektowaga town chair Frank Max, may be fading, due in part to war-weariness, in part to the damage his insurgency did to Democratic candidates this year, and in part because he’s lost some ground in Cheektowaga. But he insists he will challenge Zellner again next year.
Mayor Byron Brown easily won his third term Tuesday, so his formidable political machine has no particular reason to negotiate terms, as it did last year and the year before that, when Cuomo’s political operatives came to town to try to sort out the ancient Democratic feuds here. The mayor is in good graces with Cuomo; Zellner is not. Brown can continue to operate as a party unto himself.
The faction that once followed Sam Hoyt and now follows Assemblyman Sean Ryan goes its own way, too. The South Buffalo Democratic organization that surrounds Congressman Brian Higgins appears weaker than it once was, and is weakened further by the political shenanigans of State Senator Tim Kennedy in this year’s primaries. Kennedy poured money into the campaigns of Max’s candidates, most of whom lost. He did this in collaboration with former party chairman Steve Pigeon, who continues to gleefully sow chaos everywhere he goes. (Said one Democratic insider who has recently worked with Pigeon, “He’s a good guy, and he’s smart as hell. The problem with Steve is he has no judgment.”)
Given this landscape, how can there be peace? The good news for Democrats is that there are plenty of party activists and leaders opposed to both Zellner and Max. There are operatives in the Brown camp who intend to have political futures after the mayor’s third term is finished and he is safely ensconced in some lobbying firm. Another Democratic insider discussed the possibility of a council of chiefs, a sort of loya jirga, that would reorganize the Erie County Democratic Party beginning with three tenets: Zellner is out, so is Max, and Pigeon is poisonous. That might be a good place to start.blog comments powered by Disqus
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