So where do the races for Buffalo mayor and Erie County sheriff go from here?

Last week was an incredible week for local politics.  Who knew that so few people could have so much influence on a couple of election campaigns that normally are low volume affairs?

The Democratic primary for mayor of Buffalo took pretty much everyone by surprise except for India Walton and her supporters.  The element of surprise can work effectively if you are well prepared to take advantage of the situation.  The Walton team was well prepared.

It also helps a lot if your opponent takes the election and the electorate for granted and feels comfortable that the election will take care of itself.  Just pretend there is no election.  That strategy has reportedly led to finger pointing throughout City Hall.  Information is not available about which finger is being used.

After the shock of India Walton’s victory in the primary began to wear off the natural thing for politicos to do was to consider whether the matter is settled or whether options remain.  Mayor Byron Brown has not yet conceded his loss of the primary, saying that all votes must be counted.  Yes they should and yes they will.  It will not go his way.  Brown announced Monday that regardless of the primary results he will mount a full write-in campaign right through November.

An issue for campaigns to consider is how much Walton’s 11,100+ votes is a floor or a ceiling for total votes in a contested November election, and how much Brown’s 9,600+ votes is a floor or a ceiling for his total votes.  Both can expand their totals, but how far?

Write-in elections are pretty rare in New York State but as Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner has noted, it is very easy now to write-in a name since we are all handed paper ballots and a pen when we go to vote.  As someone who has on occasion written in Mickey Mouse for a race or two, I can personally confirm how easy the process is.

Winning a contested election in Buffalo, however, when you are relying on write-ins while your opponent’s name is already printed on the ballot as the Democratic candidate, is no walk in the park.  It would take organization and hard work, somethings badly lacking in the recently completed Brown primary campaign. 

Walton’s team has demonstrated their skill and determination and they will only get better after their primary success.  Brown, on the other hand, needs to re-tool to have a chance.  A strong and experienced campaign manager will be required.

Walton has a large, hungry and success-driven crew.  Brown used to have one and it could yet again come to life.

Walton has the support of the Working Families Party (but not their ballot line), the Buffalo Teachers Federation, and countless progressives from around the country.  I’m not sure, however, how well the politics of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will translate in a city where politics is more centrist and conservative than in many parts of New York City.

Zellner immediately announced his support for Walton and that move is appropriate.  I recall being in a 1977 post-primary meeting in Chairman Joe Crangle’s office right after Joe’s candidate for mayor was defeated by Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve.  There was talk that day about carrying on with an independent line.  A day or two later Crangle decided that the party had to support the primary winner.

If there is a Democrat Walton versus write-in Brown campaign, be prepared for some expensive, heavy duty, non-stop campaigning right through November 2nd.  The tone of the campaign will be much more aggressive and intense than what we saw in the primary. Brown likely still has a considerable amount of money in the campaign treasury and can raise substantially more.

Walton raised less in the primary but made good use of what she had.  Now that she has become a national progressive celebrity money will likely pour in in numerous small donations from around the country.  Many of her primary donors were from places elsewhere in the United States.

Brown is running a write-in campaign.  Let the games begin.

Erie County sheriff

First the easy part.  Kim Beaty won the Democratic primary decisively.  Her major opponent, Brian Gould, graciously dropped out last week even though he could have run on an independent party line. The two independent line petitions of the third candidate in the primary, Myles Carter, have been disqualified, removing him from the November ballot.

The Republican side of the picture is more complicated.  The winner of the primary, John Garcia, is also on the ballot of the Back the Blue and Guardian independent parties, assuming that challenges to those lines are rejected.

The loser of the Republican primary, Karen Healy-Case, remains on the Conservative Party line; the Party endorsed her even before the Republicans.  Republicans often depend on the Conservative line to carry their candidates to victory.

In previous elections Conservatives have frequently nominated placeholder attorney candidates for an office so that if the preferred person did not win the Republican primary the placeholder could decline the Conservative line to accept a nomination to run for judge in heavily Democratic New York City.  Then the Conservatives would substitute the Republican primary winner on their line.  The problem is, Case is not an attorney.

This has not stopped speculation about how get to Healy-Case off the C line.  One option that many are discussing is a bill passed by the State Legislature in early June that would simplify a candidate’s declination of a minor party line.  The bill was sponsored by several progressive New York City Democratic senators.  Governor Andrew Cuomo has not yet acted on the bill.

But here is the hang-up.  The bill says that a candidate declination must occur “not later than ten days after the primary election.”  That would mean Friday, July 2nd.  If the Governor vetoes the bill or does not act on the bill before then the declination option will not be operative for 2021.

Healy-Case might also potentially be nominated for a seat on the Clarence Town Board, which could allow her to get off the ballot for sheriff.

And here is another hang-up.  Healy-Case thus far is not cooperating with getting off the line for sheriff.  There are stories going around that she will support Beaty.  Things often change in politics.  But if she declines to cooperate the Republican vote for sheriff could be split in November.

Then there is Ted Dinoto, who has filed independent petitions to run as the Public Service candidate for sheriff.  The Republicans are fighting that.

Word on the street is that Republicans are seriously divided about their primary mess, with hard feelings and some retributions flying around.  Names are starting to surface as possible candidates to replace the current party chairman.  There is time to settle things but what is presently occurring is not helping matters.

A contested November election for mayor of Buffalo will boast turnout in the city, which will help Beaty as well as County Comptroller candidate Kevin Hardwick.

So at the end of June the races for mayor and sheriff remain unsettled with lots of options still on the table.  It is going to be a long summer.

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