Party Machines Have Big Edge When Voters Stay Home

by Tony Farina


Now that the 2016 primary is history in Erie County, perhaps most noteworthy is the incredibly low 10 percent voter turnout, especially given the important races that were on the ballot like district attorney and state senate.

The small turnout was a big advantage for endorsed candidates who had the party machines to help get their voters out, and that certainly appeared to be the case for the winner of the Democratic primary for district attorney, John Flynn, who beat acting DA Michael Flaherty 45.5 percent to 40.6 percent with Mark Sacha running a distant third with 14.1 percent. Credit must go to Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner and the Flynn team for getting out the prime party voters and leaving the others home.

But the important Conservative line went to the endorsed Republican candidate, Joe Treanor, who defeated Flynn, who was the endorsed Conservative Party candidate, 58.6 percent to 41.4 percent, Conservative voters who did vote went against their party leadership. It was a big win for County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy who spent plenty helping Treanor steal the Conservative line, giving the retired military lawyer four lines in November:  Republican, Conservative, Independent, and Reform. Flynn will have the Democratic, Working Families, and Women’s Equality.

Now with a heavy Democratic enrollment edge in Erie County, 276,813 to 145,502, Flynn would appear to be a heavy favorite in November. But remember this:  there are 13,398 enrolled Conservatives and another 100,000 blanks who could certainly be an important victor. So while the well-known Flynn, a former Tonawanda town judge and current town attorney, would appear to have the edge all things considered in a normal election, this year Donald Trump will be on the ballot and he could run well in Erie County and help Treanor who has no experience in state law.

But Flynn has a stellar military background himself and can cite his experience in state law, including as an assistant district attorney, in his race against Treanor, who only recently registered as a Conservative after years as a blank.  But insiders say this isn’t the first Conservative primary he’s “stolen” in Erie County.  He reportedly beat an endorsed Conservative candidate for judge in Cheektowaga not long ago, only to lose in the general election.

For Michael Flaherty, it is over. He has no lines to run on for district attorney in November and now has to continue in office as a lame duck for nearly four months, a tall task indeed. As one veteran prosecutor said, the transition has started and he has to continue to be the district attorney for the rest of the year.

Former State Atty. General Dennis Vacco, a Republican, said after Tuesday’s vote that he was “mildly surprised” by Flaherty’s loss, saying “he had the power of the bully pulpit the last eight months and more name recognition, but he couldn’t get his vote out. Advantage to the party machine.”

Sources say the outcome could have been different for Flaherty if he had taken the Republican endorsement which reportedly was dangled by Langworthy at one point, but he and his camp decided that it would hurt him in the Democratic primary in September and so they passed on Langworthy’s interest and took their chances, a decision they may regret now.

For John Flynn, a father of five, a commander in the Naval Reserve, and a successful personal injury attorney with the firm of Steve Boyd and John Elmore, the work is just beginning.  With Trump’s potential strength in Erie County, Flynn will have to keep Democrats at home and hope that the blanks at least break even in November.

Perhaps besides Flynn, the biggest winner on primary night was GOP Chairman Langworthy who won with Chris Jacobs in the Republican primary for State Senate, a very important race in November for control of the Senate and a race where state Republicans are all in, and with Treanor against the Conservative Party’s endorsed candidate Flynn.

In addition to his primary night success, Langworthy also scored last week at Salvatore’s in Cheektowaga where, according to sources, he hauled in at least $100,000 at fundraiser as he eyes bigger political prizes down the road, like state GOP chairman.

The primary dust has settled, the November contests are set, and the campaigning will continue.  What continues to amaze, however, is the lack of voter interest, as demonstrated in the 10 percent primary turnout.

As veteran political writer George Borrelli said after Tuesday’s primary, “people complain about government and politicians but then they don’t vote.”

Maybe the election seasons are just too long and people lose interest.  Erie County voters were pretty much a no-show in the primary and we can only hope they will wake up and participate in November or bite their tongues.

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Frank Parlato

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  • I agree with your assessment: “Treanor who has no experience in state law.” Erie County simply cannot afford such a risky bargain. Especially when Flynn has overwhelming relevant experience and deep roots here.