By Tony Farina
The race for Erie County district attorney will become a little clearer tonight (May 12) when the Conservative Party’s Executive Committee is expected to make its endorsement, choosing between Acting DA Michael Flaherty and Tonawanda Town Attorney John Flynn, the only two candidates who are scheduled to be interviewed.
Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo, fresh from his party’s successful spring fundraiser last week at DiPaolo’s Restaurant that attracted more than 200 people, said the committee will choose between Flaherty and Flynn for district attorney with no other candidates requesting to be considered.
Flynn, who is a former Tonawanda Town judge, is the endorsed Democratic candidate for district attorney after party leaders selected him over Flaherty back in February, setting up a Democratic primary in September. Flaherty, a career prosecutor, served as chief deputy under former DA Frank A. Sedita, III who left office Jan. 1 to begin serving as a State Supreme Court justice.
The all-important Conservative endorsement will be followed on Saturday morning by a meeting of the Erie County Republican Executive Committee under Chairman Nick Langworthy when, according to sources, the GOP is expected to endorse Flaherty for district attorney with no Republican candidate in the race. That likely endorsement of Flaherty sets up tonight’s Conservative Party decision as critical to both candidates, a strong boost to Flaherty and an even stronger lift for Flynn should he win the Conservative nod in what is seen by political observers as a toss up going in.
Flynn appeared confident of success this week, saying he has strong support for his candidacy in the legal community outside of the district attorney’s office, and he has run a campaign promising to bring change to the office, saying he has the legal experience, the leadership and the character to be an outstanding district attorney. “There has been a loss of public confidence from law enforcement to the legal community,” he said, “and I’m going to change that, Flynn has frequently targeted the policies of former DA Sedita in his criticism of Flaherty who served as Sedita’s top assistant for the last several years.
Fighting back, Flaherty has called his non-endorsement by Democratic Party leaders last February a “badge of honor,” saying it should demonstrate to the public that he is not beholden to anybody and that as district attorney and a professional prosecutor he will serve the public not the political interests.,Flaherty has taken steps to establish his own agenda, setting up the first public integrity unit in the history of the office and making other moves to distance himself from his former boss who had lost favor with some in the legal community and party headquarters even though he received bipartisan endorsement for State Supreme Court.
In what is setting up to be a high stakes political showdown, both candidates say they are ready to give it their all tomorrow night at the Conservative Party endorsement meeting made all the more important by the likely presence of Donald Trump on the Republican line in November, a candidate who is expected to have strong voter support in Erie County among Republicans and Conservatives and the county where Republican Carl Paladino crushed Democrat Andrew Cuomo in the 2010 gubernatorial race even though Democrats hold a huge enrollment advantage. Paladino has been a strong supporter of Trump’s presidential bid from day one.
Veteran observers say it is much too early to predict Trump’s coattails locally in November, but as anyone who has watched the Trump march to the likely GOP nomination, he will be a factor and all the players in Erie County know it.