Why there still isn’t a serious contest for Erie County Executive

On Wednesday we were treated to the one and only televised debate of the County Executive campaign this year.  The statements were predictable and decent, the candidates were gentlemanly, and the show was boring.  The end of the Blue Jays/Texans baseball playoff was much more exciting.  I’m glad I have the picture-in-picture function on our TV.

I started publishing this blog at the end of March 2015, and readership was a little iffy at the beginning.  But since then the number of views has increased substantially with a growing email distribution list and a little Twitter following.  I very much appreciate the interest in the blog and the positive comments.

One of the earliest posts that I wrote was published on April 14th and not a whole lot of people saw it.  It was entitled “Six Reasons Why There Won’t Be a Serious Contest th7JN6KFRDfor Erie County Executive in 2015.”  I think that post is still accurate, so at the risk of boring some of my original readers, here are the six reasons, with some updating following each point in bold print:

  1. Mark Poloncarz has presided over the preparation and management of three county budgets so far. The budgets have been balanced and have produced small surpluses. The fund balance is healthy. Taxes are down a little from where they were four years ago. Walter will tell people that Poloncarz tried to raise taxes in 2013 and the legislature beat that back. It’s true, but frankly that’s inside baseball. The public won’t focus on that any more than they will on the tax cut that the legislature approved for 2015. I don’t know how you as a reader of this blog made out on your county taxes this year, but I can tell you that our county tax cut wasn’t enough to buy a pizza.  Update:  Poloncarz on Thursday released his proposed 2016 county budget.  It is balanced, as required by law; makes minimal use of the fund balance; and proposes no increase in the theoretical county property tax rate, although the total tax levy is up $13.2 million due to growth in property assessment.  There is actually no such thing as a “county” tax rate.  There are different tax rates for county taxes for every city and town in the county.  The “county” tax rate that county executives like to refer to is just a countywide calculation of the total tax levy and total property assessments in the county.  When Dennis Gorski was County Executive, the Legislature and media considered an increase in the levy to be a tax increase.  Ray Walter issued a press release after Poloncarz presented his budget, criticizing Poloncarz’s use of fund balance (the county’s saving account), citing a statement from Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw.  Mychajliw actually points out that the amount of fund balance to be used in 2016 is $2 million less than was budgeted in 2015.  For a point of reference, the last budget prepared by County Executive Collins in 2011 included $7.4 million is fund balance revenue.                                                                                                                                                                                                  
  2. The Bills. Poloncarz, with help from Albany, negotiated a new lease that pretty much keeps the team here for ten years. The Pegulas’ purchase of the team solidified that. Poloncarz also stood up to the NFL owners when they tried to tell Erie County that a new stadium is needed. The stadium question will probably get serious before the end of the new county executive term, which begins next January 1, but for now things are cool with the Bills.  Update:  the team has been up and down so far this season, but feelings in this football-loving community are still upbeat and a third of the way through the season they are still in the playoff hunt.  Sometime in the next four years discussions about a new stadium will begin to heat up.  Poloncarz acknowledged that possibility in Wednesday’s debate with Walter.  Walter opposes any additional funds for a new stadium.                                                                                                                                                                
  3. Making sure the trains run on time. Okay, that expression is not exactly relevant for Erie County. The correct analogy is making sure the snow is plowed. We have had some major weather events here over the past couple of winters. While the folks in the town of Boston may not agree, the general consensus has been that Poloncarz did an excellent job of getting the snow plowed and keeping the public informed about what they needed to know to get through it.  Update:  there were some lake effect rain warnings this week and there is the possibility of a dusting of snow on Sunday.  But Poloncarz is doing a good job with his ads reminding people about how well the storms of the last couple winters were handled.                                                                                                                                                     
  4. There have been no scandals in Erie County Hall. That’s the way it’s mostly been over the years, and so perhaps the routine doesn’t merit much attention. It’s just good to know.  Update:  Ray Walter tried this week to make something about a bidding problem in the Public Works Department, but Poloncarz handled it effectively.  It is a little late in the campaign for some unsolicited advise, but it’s not a good idea to jump on an issue without first understanding what is going on.                                                 
  5. When I worked on the 1979 campaign of Frank McGuire for county executive, my friend Steve Banko and I were assigned to produce the economic development position paper for the campaign. We labored long and hard (actually one or two evenings) and came up with a report that the Courier printed in toto – an entire page. But when Steve and I took a look at what we produced we concluded that we had prepared was a list of 49 action verbs – “create, develop, produce, encourage, initiate, lead, organize, grow, etc., etc., etc.” My point here is that Poloncarz will claim that he helped improve the economy around here. There is less unemployment and lots of construction going on. But no county executive can have any major impact on the economy. It’s just not in the power of that office. But the fact that employment is better and there are cranes in the sky creates a positive feeling in the community, and to some degree an incumbent officeholder benefits from that.  Update:  the economy continues to make progress and the unemployment rate continues to shrink.  Poloncarz’s claim in his TV commercial that “we created 12,000 jobs” is a stretch.  He did not create them.  It would have been better to just say that the community has seen 12,000 jobs added in four years and let the viewing public draw their own conclusions about how those jobs developed.                                                                                                                                               
  6. Poloncarz is not a great political fundraiser, but he has a good amount in the bank. Walter does not, and raising money for a campaign that is perceived as simply a placeholder is very difficult.  Update:  Poloncarz’s campaign finances continue to dwarf Walter’s, but that being said, Walter has raised a decent amount of money for the campaign, enough to get on the radio and TV.

So with the election campaign almost over, local political junkies are left to focus on the Family Court race and the County Legislature races in the 5th and 8th districts.  [Editor’s note:  the previously identified close contest in the 4th legislative district was actually meant to refer to the 5th district.  Pointed out to me by someone who spends lots of time editing/correcting term papers.]  At least the presidential campaign is interesting.  Go Bills!

One thought on “Why there still isn’t a serious contest for Erie County Executive

  1. great point on jobs created , rare that a Pol can taken specific credit for jobs created. Media always fails to point this out. I’ve always felt that mayors and county execs should be out on road trying to bring employers to town; not sitting in office. Great post.


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