High intensity national and state elections overshadow this year’s local contest

Even if you ignore this year’s impending national elections (go ahead and try to do that), and even if you ignore the state race for governor which is coming into better focus, an observer has to be mystified by the low energy level of politics on the local level in 2018.

Technically, this year in Western New York, there will be elections for two members of Congress, five state senators, nine members of the Assembly, a county clerk and a county court judge. When the petition process plays out this summer, however, there will be some blank spots on certain ballot lines and maybe a few “placeholder” candidates who got stuck holding the bag when their party could not come up with a credible candidate.

Credible candidates, to be fair, are often hard to come by. Most of the aforementioned offices are presently held by incumbents who have occupied the position for many years, or in some cases, a few decades. Incumbents have the ability to more easily generate attention through their work and publicly-funded publicity. Incumbents can more easily generate large amounts of campaign funds.

Those things tend to scare away potential opponents. Even for placeholder candidates there are certain legal and technical obligations of a candidate that are a pain whether you are a serious candidate or just a fill-in.

For these reasons there are often party ballot lines in some elections where there is no name at all. In olden days party leaders could always come up with some cooperative soul who would reluctantly allow their name to appear on a ballot for an office no one expected to see that person win. Party pride and loyalty were at stake. That spirit no longer exists.

So what you are left with is a seat here or there where there is a contest, real or just hopeful. Politics and Other Stuff has combed the local offices on this year’s ballot to size up the situation. It didn’t take long. Things can change but it’s almost April, a time when serious campaigns are identified as serious campaigns. So here is the list:

  • Erie County Clerk. Incumbent Mickey Kearns won the office last November. That election was only for purposes of filling the office for the remainder of former Clerk Chris Jacobs’ term. Kearns didn’t win that election by much, and he faces the headwinds of greater Democratic voter enthusiasm. That said, there is no Democratic candidate evident for the office at this time. Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski declined to run for personal reasons. You can’t beat somebody with nobody, and so far “nobody” is the Democratic candidate for Clerk.
  • There will be a special election for Kearns’ former Assembly seat on April 24th, but unless you live in South Buffalo, Lackawanna, Orchard Park or West Seneca you will be forgiven for not knowing that. The candidates are Democrat Pat Burke, currently a county legislator, and Republican Erik Bohen, a school teacher who is technically a registered Democrat. Each candidate has two minor party lines. There may also be a Democratic primary in September, and the general election comes later this year. Those elections might be contested by the same two candidates. Some political leaders, however, feel that whoever wins the special election will probably scare off the loser in the fall.
  • If Burke wins the special election then the five remaining Democrats on the County Legislature will appoint a replacement until a special election can be held in November for that seat. Burke is in a long line of Irish Democratic legislators from that district, based in South Buffalo, going back to the first legislator, in 1968, Dick Keane. That tradition might be ending. Nearly 70 percent of the registered voters in that district live in the Town of Cheektowaga; just 22 percent reside in Buffalo’s South District. Cheektowaga Councilmember Tim Meyers is a potential replacement should Burke move on to Albany.
  • Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter of the 146th District (Amherst plus a part of Pendleton in Niagara County) won re-election in 2016 by only 1,414 votes. In 2017 Democrats surprised many folks by sweeping all town offices in Amherst. The town is probably the epicenter for the Democratic blue wave. Two potential Democratic candidates are making the rounds at the moment, Marc Cohen and Karen McMahon. This race will be one to watch in November.
  • The 60th Senate District is represented by Republican Chris Jacobs, who won comfortably in 2016. The only thing of note here is that the Democrats don’t have a candidate at the moment, but they do have someone who plans to challenge Jacobs even though he was as recently as last year a Republican, Kevin Stocker of Tonawanda. Stocker has previously run for the seat as well as several other public offices in Tonawanda and surrounding territory. The thing about this election is that even though Jacobs is not likely to be seriously challenged, the Democrats could wind up with egg on their face if Stocker by default were to be the Democrat on the ballot come November.
  • Congressman Chris Collins will have a challenger, most like Nate McMurray, the Supervisor of the Town of Grand Island. McMurray’s problem is that even though there are several issues he can seriously challenge Collins on, the national Democrats are not paying much attention to the race, which will leave McMurray to fend for himself in terms of raising money and organizing his campaign.
  • The last three Erie County Court judges to be elected all were unopposed. Running for a judicial seat can be expensive. That being said, it appears there will be party primaries this year for the seat that will be vacated by the retiring Judge Michael Pietruszka. Susan Barnes is the Democratic endorsed candidate, with Buffalo City Court Judge Debra Givens also entering the race. Judicial candidates can file petitions for all party nominations, so there will be a lot of jockeying going on as the year progresses.

And that’s about it. So political junkies will need to be content with watching the national and state campaigns. That shouldn’t be too hard to do.