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The Marinelli-Go-Round


Last week Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he was appointing Lynn Marinelli director of intergovernmental relations for Empire State Development’s Western New York office, a newly created position that will pay the veteran Erie County legislator $70,000 per year.

It’s no surprise that Marinelli should be leaving her seat: She has been angling for an appointment to a plum job for some time, in particular the much more lucrative gig as the county’s personnel commissioner. There was even rumor of a deal struck last spring between Marinelli and a potential primary opponent, Buffalo school board member Jay McCarthy: If McCarthy held off, Marinelli would help him win her seat when she vacated it this year.

The personnel job could not be (or, in any case, was not) finagled, however, without finding a landing spot for the current commissioner, John Greenan. So instead Marinelli leaves to join the governor’s Western New York team, headed by her old friend Sam Hoyt. And a busload of political hopefuls are lining up to win the seat she has occupied since 1997.

McCarthy is one of those, though we are told some of his backing may have shifted to Peter Savage III, a top adviser to Mayor Byron Brown and right-hand man to Brown’s chief political officer, Deputy Mayor Steve Casey. Savage stands a better chance than most of the hopefuls of getting the endorsement of the Democratic committee members in the district, and traditionally that endorsement has been honored when filling a vacancy. But that tradition has been eroded in recent years over at Buffalo’s Common Council, and there is some talk among the Legislature’s Democratic caucus—who will vote on filling the vacancy—that the committee endorsement should be treated as merely advisory.

Even if Savage wins the endorsement and is named to fill the vacancy, McCarthy might run for the seat. He has powerful political allies, including lobbyist Maurice Garner, Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs, and fellow school board member Carl Paladino. And, like his friend Jacobs, McCarthy has managed, in his brief career thus far, to negotiate the world of local politics without making earnest enemies. If he runs, he’ll have plenty of support.

Then there is Michelle Ianello, the former legislator who is married to Erie County Board of Elections commissioner Dennis Ward and is very much of the Democratic faction associated with Democratic Party headquarters and the party’s chairman, Jeremy Zellner. Curiously, Ianello donated $3,000 to the county party the week before Marnelli’s departure was announced.

There is talk of other candidates, too: Joel Feroleto, a Democrat who works for State Senator Mark Grisanti, a Republican, mounted a primary against Marinelli in 2007 and is said to be interested in the vacancy. Amber Small, who is executive director of the Parkside Community Association and has a history of involvement in local government and community activism, may also be a candidate.

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