Boy, that was exciting; coming attractions

You might have noticed, we had an election yesterday. Or maybe you did not.

About three quarters of the eligible voters in Erie County stayed home yesterday. We can attribute this to one of two things: (1) the public is overwhelmingly satisfied by the performance of local government and chose to express their feelings by staying home; or (2) the public is overwhelmingly dissatisfied by the performance of local government and chose to express their feelings by staying home.

The most visible office on the ballot was Erie County Executive, so total votes in that race is the best measure of turnout and voter interest. The combined total of votes for that office was about 143,000, which is 25 percent of total county enrollment. Mark Poloncarz defeated Ray Walter 65 to 34 percent, with a margin of victory of approximately 44,000.

Poloncarz broke out in front at the beginning of the year. His poll numbers were enough to scare away a couple potential challengers. Nothing much changed since then. His victory margin was a landslide.

The Family Court race was interesting, in an inside baseball sort of way, for the money that was spent. When all was said and done the total costs for all candidates will have exceeded $800,000, close to or maybe more than what was spent on the county executive election. Freedman’s win demonstrated how a low turnout helps a Republican in countywide elections.

What fed into the crazy Family Court scenario was a woman with access to lots of money who wanted to be a judge, Michele Brown. I do not know Ms. Brown but I assume she is a nice and intelligent person. Unfortunately for her, it appeared that she signed up with folks who may have been more interested in making money or causing some political mayhem than in getting someone elected. Ms. Brown’s free-wheeling campaign spending in the primary elections, to the tune of nearly $280,000, created the arms race that the other two major candidates were forced to respond to.

The other unfortunate thing about this race is the extraordinarily large commitments of funds from the candidates personally as well as from their families, both through donations and loans.

In the end, more than TV or personal campaigning, turnout was everything in this election. The dismal turnout, which was 14 percent in the City of Buffalo, combined with the large number of party-unaffiliated voters in the county, substantially reduced the advantage that the Democratic Party has in the county when one simply looks at party registration.

The two county legislative races that attracted the most attention turned out to leave the Legislature with the same Republican control that currently exists, with Democrat Tom Loughran and Republican Ted Morton both holding on to their seats.

Some other highlights:

  • Amherst Democrats returned Debbi Bucki to the Town Board, a major gain for the Board; her running mate Fran Spoth also won, which will change the Board to Democratic control.
  • The referendum in Hamburg that proposed upsizing the Hamburg Town Board to five members was approved by a strong margin. A victory for good government.
  • Democratic Town Clerk Johanna Metz Coleman handily defeated incumbent Supervisor Dino Fudoli, whose aggressive behavior with the town unions backfired.
  • Town of Tonawanda Democrats retained their control of the Town Board with the victories of Joe Emminger as the new supervisor and the re-election of Councilman Dan Crangle.
  • Sheila Meegan was re-elected West Seneca Supervisor on three minor party lines. That is an unusual but not unprecedented occurrence.   Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo played a large role in bringing that about.
  • Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster won a substantial victory for a third term.
  • Lockport voters elected a Democrat, Sue Mawhiney, as City Treasurer, replacing the incumbent who was the focal point of the city’s fiscal woes. At the same time, Lockport voters turned down a referendum that would have reduced the powers of the Treasurer, rebuffing Mayor Anne McCaffrey, who won her election. Democrats also elected Joe O’Shaughnessy as Alderman-at-Large.

Coming attractions

Attentive observers have no doubt noticed that there will be a presidential election in 2016. There will be lots to say about that in coming months. But there will also be some local races that will attract a great deal of attention.

The featured local race next year will be the contest for District Attorney. DA Frank Sedita will head off to the Supreme Court leaving one year on his term. Governor Cuomo has the power to appoint an interim DA to serve in 2016. But having the power does not mean he will do so. He could just let the first assistant in the office, Michael Flaherty, serve until the election occurs twelve months from now.

Flaherty is already off and running, having held a fundraiser and hired campaign staff. He has not run for office before.

Someone who has election experience will also be in the race. County Court Judge Tim Franczyk will resign that seat in early 2016 to run for DA. Franczyk served as an assistant DA prior to being elected Judge. He will be a very formidable candidate who will likely have the support of the Democratic County Committee.

Governor Cuomo would also have the power to appoint a temporary successor to Franczyk’s Court seat, but again, that may or may not happen.

A local State Senate seat and a State Assembly seat will attract lots of attention in 2016.

Sixtieth district Senator Marc Panepinto in 2014 survived a primary against former Senator Al Coppola, winning by just 389 votes. Panepinto then won a three-way race in the general election against Republicans Kevin Stocker and Mark Grisanti, who ran on a minor party line. Both Stocker on the Republican line and Grisanti on the Independence line drew more votes than Panepinto on the Democratic line. In a district that has a 46-to27-percent Democratic enrollment edge over the Republicans, Panepinto was elected with less than 33 percent of the vote, his margin of victory coming only from the 3,996 votes he received on the Working Families Party line.

Stocker is already campaigning door-to-door for another shot at the seat. County Clerk Chris Jacobs, who has won two countywide elections, may challenge Stocker in a Republican primary. Senator Panepinto might also have another primary in 2016, given his weak showing two years ago.

The Assembly seat that will be competitive next year is in the 143rd district (Cheektowaga, Lancaster) where the incumbent, Republican Angela Wozniak, will likely be seeking re-election. Ms. Wozniak was elected in the wake of the Dennis Gabryzak debacle.

I am saying that Wozniak will likely seek re-election because she has own political mess to deal with. A member of her Assembly staff is pursuing sexual harassment charges against her. The Assembly Ethics Committee reportedly met in September to review the accusations against her. Action from the Committee might mean anything from resignation to reprimand to nothing. Regardless of the outcome of the Ethics Committee probe, the 143rddistrict is a strong Democratic district by party registration (49/24 percent Democratic/Republican). Democrats in a presidential election year will have that seat in their sights.

There will be one Supreme Court seat open next year, which will minimize the party cross endorsement wheeling/dealing, unless the seat gets tied into other races for County Court or DA.

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