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Small Talk

I think that guy just shot at me: Last week the Erie County Legislature replaced attorney Jack O’Donnell, a protege of former county Democratic chairman Steve Pigeon, with attorney Chris O’Brien, who has friendly relations with the current chairman, Jeremy Zellner, as a commissioner of the Erie County Water Authority. An O’Brien for an O’Donnell, an attorney for an attorney, one political faction for another, neither commissioner specifically experienced in managing a municipal water system—seems like a wash to me. But online political columnist Glenn Gramigna, a faithful servant on the Democratic Party, uncovered outrage expressed by an anonymous source:

Highly reliable sources are telling NewWNYPolitics that the decision of the Erie County Legislature’s Democratic Caucus to replace successful businessman Jack O’Donnell on the Water Authority Board with prominent attorney Chris O’Brien will lead to “all out war” between competing factions within the local Democratic Party.

A declaration of upcoming hostilities among local Democrats sounds to me like a GI peeking between sandbags at the Battle of the Bulge and observing that a fight might be afoot. An “all out war” isn’t coming; it’s been going on unabated for years. O’Brien’s candidacy led BMHA resident commisioner Joe Mascia, who also applied for the water authority job, to complain that O’Brien was being rewarded for his political donations. Mascia’s complaint provoked a widely circulated, anonymous email attacking Pigeon, O’Donnell, and a number of others who supported Cheektowaga’s Frank Max over Zellner for party chairman. This sort of political sniping is neither new nor news, except when it affects governance—for example, in those rare cases that well qualified, experienced people in patronage positions are replaced by less qualified, less capable appointees because of a change in political fortunes. That’s not what happened here.

Friends and enemies: More noteworthy are the occasional temporary, separate peaces that are struck between warring parties. Last summer, for example, the political machines behind Assemblyman Sean Ryan and Mayor Byron Brown agreed to stop bleeding one another over committee races. And this week, at Brown’s annual state of the city address, a remarkable ecumenical moment: The mayor announced that developer Carl Paladino—one of his harshest critics and a man who lost his the insider advantage he’d enjoyed under Mayor Tony Masiello when Brown took office in 2006—would build the development he’d proposed for the Webster Block on city-owned land in the Erie Basin Marina, next to Templeton’s Landing. (Paladino’s Ellicott Development lost out to the Buffalo Sabres in a contest to see who would develop the Webster Block.) The Paladino plan includes a hotel, which may ring a bell: The last developer to propose a hotel for city-owned property in the Erie Basin Marina was Jim Pitts, the former Common Council president whose political career ended when the Council’s at-large seats were abolished and the presidency ceased to be a citywide elected position. Who campaigned hardest for that change, approved by city voters in a 2002 referendum? Paladino, in no small part because of his animosity toward Pitts. Who lobbied hardest (and in vain, thanks to a badly botched bidding process) to win approval for Pitts’s waterfront hotel project? Brown.

Thus ends the history lesson.

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