Even the casual observer of politics probably comes to notice the usual career path that many politicians follow. Get involved in party activities, run for an office. If successful perhaps run for a higher office.
That description does not fit the current Erie County Comptroller, Stefan Mychajliw. His recent political path has been marked by zigs and zags and some head fakes that have left even some in his own party confused.
A couple stints in the news rooms of local TV stations were followed by activity in public relations. He worked on Chris Collins’ failed county executive re-election campaign in 2011. Then, as things sometimes happen in politics, an opportunity fell into his lap.
Comptroller Mark Poloncarz’s election as County Executive opened up the comptroller’s seat. The Democratic candidate to fill the post ran an uninspiring campaign against the Republican Mychajliw who had some name familiarity from his TV work. Mychajliw won in 2012 and then was re-elected for two four year terms in 2013 and 2017.
Mychajliw’s career experience before his election was dominated by words and sound bites rather than debits and credits. He benefitted from the work of the comptroller office’s professional staff, most particularly Deputy Comptroller Greg Gach who knew everything about county government that one person could know. With that back-up in place Mychajliw began his wandering political journey.
After the 2017 election many Republicans began penciling him in as the party’s candidate against Poloncarz in 2019. Mychajliw encouraged such discussions.
But then Chris Collins got into trouble, charged with federal crimes concerning insider trading. Republican leaders in Collins’ congressional district went into a strange dance revolving around the anticipated departure of Collins as a candidate for re-election. At the end of the day, however, Collins decided to run for re-election.
Regardless of Collins’ plans, most Republicans began to assume that he either would lose or, if re-elected, become a wounded duck. Mychajliw abandoned his interest in the county executive campaign and set his sights on being Collins’ replacement.
He became Collins’ shadow, following him around the vast expanses of the 27th District. He contributed to various out of Erie County political organizations, using his state regulated comptroller campaign account. He traveled to Washington to discuss his candidacy with the right-wing Club for Growth and a then leader of the so-called Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows. Investigative Post’s Geoff Kelly reported on the questionable use of Mychajliw’s comptroller campaign account.
Collins’ narrow re-election victory was soon overshadowed by his legal troubles. His guilty plea and resignation from the congressional seat in October 2019 led to a mad dash of Republicans to succeed him. Among the eager candidates was Stefan Mychajliw.
Mychajliw’s campaign, however, never got off the ground. All three candidates in the Republican primary to succeed Collins pledged their undying loyalty to Donald Trump. Beyond that, however, Mychajliw couldn’t come close to matching the money raised by Chris Jacobs and Beth Parlato. He even employed a scheme of questionable legality, documented in a previous post, in which he in effect transferred funds from his comptroller campaign treasury to his congressional election effort. His campaign was anemic and he finished a distance third in the June 2020 primary.
Along the way Mychajliw appears to have not made friends at the Buffalo News. A January 2021 editorial noted that “Mychajliw has never lived up to the requirements of his office, approaching it more for its political opportunities than for its crucial role in monitoring the people’s money… It’s still all about him – about what stunt he can pull to raise his profile, increase his chances or demean his opponents. We should expect more of all our public officials, including comptrollers.”
Instead of running for re-election this year Mychajliw set his sights on the race for supervisor of the Town of Hamburg, where he had taken up residence about three years ago. His latest campaign continues the off-the-wall approach that has led him through the last four years.
Mychajliw has used his current office, which in January he reportedly had only occasionally visited, to promise to hold the line on taxes (the town has already done that); oppose efforts to “defund the police” (an issue without any substance in Hamburg politics); and to oppose socialism, hoping evidently to link his Democratic opponent, Randy Hoak, with the Buffalo mayoral campaign of India Walton.
Turnabout is fair play for such issues. As a Trump loyalist did he view the insurrection at the nation’s Capitol on January 6th as basically a “tourist visit,” as did several Trump allies? How does Stefan feel about having people carrying Trump banners that day beating police officers with flags and baseball bats while spraying them with bear repellent? Does he think the Republican tax cuts of 2017, which left dozens of large corporations paying no taxes (something that might be described as socialism for the rich), were good for America?
Mychajliw’s current campaign seems to indicate that the Election Law doesn’t apply to him. He filed his required July 15 financial report to the state Board of Elections 11 days late. He continues to list his campaign as a countywide comptroller effort instead of a town race. The difference is that a town race has lower contribution limits than a county race. Investigative Post’s Geoff Kelly documents those shenanigans, noting that some contributions exceeded the town limit and that most of the contributors were not residents or business owners in Hamburg.
Mychajliw spends a great of deal these days posting videos on Twitter which cover a variety of subjects that often have nothing to do with running the Town of Hamburg. Usually candidates for position like town supervisor go overboard on the smallest of issues which are important to town residents.
Mychajliw may be staking his campaign on the fact that Donald Trump carried Hamburg in 2020 – by 242 votes out of a total of 35,014. Whether Hamburg voters prefer Trump-style politics in the supervisor’s office or whether they simply want a supervisor who knows how to get the town services delivered efficiently and economically is something we will find out on November 2nd.
When my editor, Paul Fisk, saw my email about this week’s post title that appeared on his phone as “Stefan”… he immediately assumed it would be about Elise Stefanik’s conclusion that her shameless self-promotion was more important to her than any sense of principles, honor, honesty or consistency and that it was time to switch to being a True Trumper. After reading the Stefan post, he said he couldn’t help but notice there were more than spelling similarities between Stefan and Stefanik.
Follow me on Twitter @kenkruly