Democrats on the verge of an historic election

Five weeks out from Election 2022, the Democratic Party in Erie County and New York State is on solid ground.  The party is about to play a major role in the election of the state’s first female governor and in electing the first governor from Buffalo in 140 years.

Kathy Hochul of Buffalo, by all indications, is headed for a solid victory in her race for governor.  The most recent polls show her far ahead of Lee Zeldin.  The next financial report, due to be filed on October 7th, will show Hochul with plenty of cash to take care of TV ads and mailings for the remainder of the election.

The polls show Hochul doing well throughout the state, including New York City and its suburbs, but nowhere will the winning margin be better than in Erie County.  The Erie County Democratic Committee is primed to deliver for Hochul and other candidates on November 8th.

My political experience with the party goes back to 1967 when I was a student at Canisius College. Joe Crangle was in his second year as County Chairman; the county had only recently become Democratic by party affiliation. Republicans still had a strong hold in the county and in town governments, including Tonawanda and Amherst. There were actually Republicans on the Buffalo City Council!

Fast forward to 2002.  Steve Pigeon’s six-year reign as party chairman had created a mess, with Democrats fighting Democrats, and in the process, losing elections.  While the efforts of County Clerk David Swarts and others to remove Pigeon in 2000 did not succeed, the collective efforts of three different campaigns for chairman (Lenihan, the late Jim Keane, and yours truly) ultimately led to Pigeon’s departure from Democratic headquarters and the election of a new chair, Len Lenihan.

Lenihan’s ten years as chairman were highlighted by Mark Poloncarz’s win over County Executive Chris Collins, retaking the majority at the Erie County Legislature, and other electoral successes.

In 2012 Lenihan peacefully departed the chairmanship with the election of Jeremy Zellner.  With his recent re-election to the chairmanship Zellner begins a term that will make him the second longest serving Democratic chair in Erie County.  Joe Crangle was Chairman for 23 years.

Erie County Democratic Committee accomplishments under Zellner’s leadership include:

  • Winning the County Comptroller’s office with Kevin Hardwick’s victory last year.  Hardwick is the third Democrat elected to the office in the past sixty years, the other two being Henry Nowak in the 1960’s and Poloncarz in 2005.
  • The successful re-election of Poloncarz as County Executive in 2015 and 2019.
  • The election of John Flynn as District Attorney in 2016 following a primary win against a well-funded opponent.  Flynn was easily re-elected in 2020.
  • Increasing the size of the Democratic Majority on the County Legislature.
  • Successive wins in contested elections for State Supreme Court in 2020 and 2021.
  • Local victories extending the base of the party, including a complete sweep of all offices in the Town of Amherst and the election of a majority of members of the Aurora Town Board.
  • The election of Assemblywoman Monica Wallace in 2016, succeeding Republican Angela Wozniak.
  • The election of Assemblywoman Karen McMahon, who defeated Ray Walter in 2018.
  • The election of Assemblyman Pat Burke, reclaiming a seat previously held by Republicans Michael Kearns and Erik Bohen.
  • Erie County Democratic Party turnout in gubernatorial primary elections has consistently exceeded statewide party turnout; in 2014, 18 percent in Erie County, 10 percent statewide; in 2018 26 percent in Erie County, 25 percent statewide; in 2022 19 percent in Erie County, 15 percent statewide.
  • $7.2 million raised for party campaigns during the past ten years.
  • Finally retiring the last debt left on the books from the Pigeon era.

Zellner’s recent reelection as Chairman of the County Committee occurred at a well-run, peaceful, and enthusiastic reorganization meeting – a major contrast from years gone by for Democrats.  Zellner was also re-elected as Vice Chair of the State Democratic Committee.

With Kathy Hochul becoming governor 13 month ago and the strong likelihood that she will win the office in her own right this November, Erie County Democrats have the best working relationship with the state’s party leadership since at least the Hugh Carey administration in the late 1970s and the early 1980s.

An unsettled climate among Erie County Republicans

While Erie County Democrats are riding high, the County’s Republican Party has just gone through a change in leadership following some recent setbacks. That included the loss of their candidate for Erie County Sheriff, Karen Healey-Case, who was defeated in last year’s primary. This year in the Republican congressional primary the party leadership supported Nick Langworthy, current state and former Erie County Chairman, who won the primary against Carl Paladino – but Langworthy lost the Erie County portion of the district by 20 percent. Last year’s tough sheriff primary spilled over into the contest for county chairman this year, as Sheriff John Garcia’s campaign manager, Mitch Martin, ran for chairman this past Saturday, losing to Michael Kracker. Any lasting effects from that challenge remain to be seen. Kracker is the third chairman in four years for county Republicans.

In Memoriam:  Justice Jerome Gorski

Justice Jerome (Jerry) Gorski passed away recently at the age of 85.  Justice Gorski was the son of the late Congressman and Buffalo Council President Chester Gorski and the brother of the late Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski.

Gorski served as a State Supreme Court Justice for twenty-four years, the last twelve as a member of the Appellate Division bench.  He was the Bar Association of Erie County’s Jurist of the Year in 1998.  He also found time to assist in many community services efforts including leadership of the Catholic Charities drive.  He was an honorable and intelligent man, and a credit to his family, the judiciary, and the community.  Rest in Peace, Justice Gorski.

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