A Pigeon-less primary season — peace in Erie County

There is definite correlation between the lack of primaries this year and Steve Pigeon’s current legal issues. Either that, or going to Romania and Greece to promote lotteries seems to be keeping Steve away from interfering in the primary process in Erie County this year. No WNY Progressive Caucus action so far!

The second week in July traditionally brings the hard evidence of political party unity or disunity in Erie County. The last day to file petitions for the September 10th primary was yesterday, July 9th. Looks like a whole lot of nothing going on.

There are 210 public offices up for election in Erie County this year, ranging from county executive to town council positions. But you would hardly know it by the lack of activity.

On the county level there is limited action. No primary for county executive. Just looking at the tweets going out from Mark Poloncarz and Ray Walter, it is obvious that they are both out on the hustings attending multiple parades, parties and other events. Poloncarz has the advantage of incumbency to report and create news about county operations. But where is Walter’s press? I’ve been through some pretty rough campaigns for county executive when the climb was all up hill, but we always had news conferences and press releases to stimulate some competition. What has Ray proposed, criticized or discussed that has even hit 1 on the Richter scale?

The Green Party, by the way, has nominated Eric Jones for county executive.

There are no primaries for county judge, so with bi-partisan and minor party endorsements incumbent Judge Sheila DiTullio and candidate James Bargnesi are in effect already elected.

There is a five-way Democratic primary for the new Family Court seat, and a three-way Republican Party primary for the office, assuming petitions hold up. Kelly Brinkworth, the endorsed Democratic candidate will face Brenda Freedman, the Republican endorsee and Michelle Brown, a candidate associated with Mayor Brown.  Joseph Jarzembek and Katie Nichols Harrod have also filed petitions for the Democratic nomination. Brinkworth and Freedman have no apparent challenges for the Conservative, Green and Working Families nominations, and Freedman alone has the Independence Party endorsement.

There have been some suggestions that Ms. Brown’s candidacy is related to Kevin Brinkworth’s support of Bernie Tolbert in the primary against Mayor Brown in 2013. Ms. Brinkworth is Kevin’s niece.

Voters will elect a Buffalo city comptroller in November. Mark Schroeder has done a fine job, so fine evidently that no one is running against him – again. Mark had no opponent in 2011 either. This is kind of amazing – eight years in a major office without the need to campaign. Mark must feel like he is a judge!

Speaking of which, Mayor Brown’s appointee on the City Court bench, JaHarr Pridgen, is running for her first election in November. She has no opponents either.

In the Erie County Legislature we are able to declare that Barbara Miller-Williams, Betty Jean Grant, Patrick Burke, Joseph Lorigo and John Mills have been, for all intends and purposes, re-elected. Peter Savage has only a Green Party opponent, Anthony Baney.

Legislator Tom Laughlin has a Conservative Party challenger, and Kevin Hardwick has a primary in the Independence party. The battle for control of the Legislature will be decided in the districts presently held by Tom Loughran and Ted Morton.

There are three contested seats out of the nine races for Buffalo City Council. John Mascia and Sam Herbert have filed against Fillmore District Councilmember David Franczyk. Terrance Heard is opposing Darius Pridgen in the Ellicott District and there are four sets of petitions filed for the Masten District seat that Demone Smith recently resigned. Petitions were filed for Smith, so a substitute candidate will be selected by the Committee on Vacancies on Smith’s petitions.

Look for some petition challenges in these Council races.

With no evident opposition, Councilmembers Mike LoCurto, Rich Fontana, Joe Golombek, Christopher Scanlon and Rasheed Wyatt have effectively been re-elected. New Council Majority Leader David Rivera has a Green Party opponent.

There appear to be no serious primary contests in town races other than for supervisor in Cheektowaga, where Democrats Alice Magierski and Diane Benczkowski will contend for the open seat.

Petitions received by the Board of Elections through the mail could change things a little. Challenges to filed petitions could develop. An independent candidate could file for an office by August 18. But that being said, it appears that the line-up is pretty well set.

So what does it all mean?

Here are a few observations:

  • Buffalo Council and Erie County Legislature races in years past drew lots of candidates wanting a shot at a seat on those legislative bodies.  That was true even when the term of the position was just two years for Council members.  Is it that the positions don’t pay enough, don’t offer enough challenges? Maybe it’s just because there is peace, and they do not draw the kind of interest they once did.
  • The positions of judge pay pretty well, with nice benefits and a long term in office.  But then why so little competition for such offices this year?
  • The Green party, which holds the fourth position on the election ballot in New York State, has candidates filed in only a handful of races.  Wonder if they will ever take real advantage of their ballot position.
  • No one has filed petitions under the newly created Women’s Equality Party (a 2014 Cuomo creation) or the Reform (nee Stop Common Core/Astorino 2014) party.  This is understandable since the Erie County Board of Elections lists only 9 registered Women’s Equality Party members in the county and no registrants in the Reform party.

The Republican Party in Erie County has for the most part over the years had a tradition of avoiding primaries and that is the case this year. That helps when in many cases their candidates are out-numbered in party enrollment against Democratic candidates.

The Democratic Party in Erie County, on the other hand, has usually had a much more fractious situation.   Primaries on all levels of office have been commonplace, particularly during the past fifteen years as Steve Pigeon first fought to hold on to the chairmanship of the party, and then when he was on the outs, tried to do all he could to hurt candidates supported by party headquarters, first under Len Lenihan’s leadership, and then with Jeremy Zellner as chair.

The general lack of intramural warfare in the Erie County Democratic Party this year is a sign that Zellner has solidified his leadership and has been able to promote relative peace and harmony in the party. That Pigeon is otherwise occupied has certainly helped. Maybe this is the new normal.


And another “just wondering” point …

Wonder if Steve Casey and Chris Grant are continuing their political consulting work this year.

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