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.

Follow me on Twitter @kenkruly

The cases against Trump

By way of introduction, let’s summarize the major legal problems facing Donald Trump at the moment:

  • Justice Department investigation of the unlawful taking of public documents, including some that are classified, which Donald Trump has or had at his Florida home for more than 18 months
  • DOJ investigation of January 6 insurrection
  • The House of Representatives January 6 Committee work
  • New York Attorney General Leticia James suit against Trump and three of his children for possible financial fraud
  • Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis investigation of election tampering

That sounds like a whole lot of lawlessness from the Trump/MAGA/Republican Party that is so concerned with crime.

All this requires a great deal of “lawyering up.”  Trump’s history with attorneys has been consistently… bad.  His reputation for playing his own shadow attorney; his efforts to drag out everything forever; his failure to pay his bills are all well-known marks of the man.  The 2020 post-election legal proceedings by the Trump lawyers left wreckage around the country.  They always lost (okay, one win out of 61 cases).   As a result, many of them have faced discipline or disbarment actions.

His use and abuse of White House and Justice Department attorneys from November 2020 through January 2021 left many of those lawyers forced to testify in various legal venues and often to defend themselves when caught in Trump-dictated lies.  Trump’s interactions with his attorneys explains why MAGA now stands for “Making Attorneys Get Attorneys.”

The most recent legal calamities to befall Trump are the result of him removing (or perhaps more correctly, stealing) public documents from the White House that he had no right to take with him.  His Florida lawyers, likely at his direction, perjured themselves by signing documents in June stating that he had turned over everything. 

Recent court proceedings with the Special Master assigned to review the document matters have resulted in Trump’s current lawyers being afraid to put things in legal papers concerning issues involving classified and top-secret matters.  They know such actions can land them personally in jeopardy of committing perjury.  Can’t wait for those lawyers to explain how a president can declassify documents “even by thinking of it… there doesn’t have to be a process, there can be a process but there doesn’t have to be.”  It appears that it’s time for another one of those “person, woman, man, camera, TV” evaluations for the former guy.

The Special Master has also told those lawyers to explain what the former president was referring to concerning his comments suggesting that FBI agents had planted documents at Mar-a-Lago.

We are regularly reading about the possibility of one or more indictments of Trump for violations of the law involving the list of cases above.  Who knows?  Has anyone dusted off the old “unindicted co-conspirator” laws and procedures?

But here’s a different option. Imagine this unlikely scenario, even though it could go a long way to resolving things:

The players:  Trump; one or more of his best (lol) attorneys; Attorney General Merrick Garland; U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams; New York Attorney General Leticia James; Congressman Bennie Thompson, Chair of the House January 6 Committee; Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis.

The location:  the Justice Department, Washington, D.C.

The subject:  consolidation of all potential charges against Trump.

Here’s is a possible discussion:

  • Garland:  “Mr. Trump, we are gathered here to see if we can protect American democracy, and less importantly, simplify your life.  We are attempting to consolidate the legal prosecutions and investigations of your alleged wrongdoing.”
  • Trump:  “Let me tell you how you should work these matters out.”
  • Thompson, James, Willis, Williams, in unison:  “Please sit down.  We’re doing the talking here.”
  • Williams:  “Mr. Trump, the prosecutors assembled here are quite confident that we can bring charges against you that will stick.  It is our preference to do so.  But as President Gerald Ford agonized over and ultimately decided in 1974 concerning Richard Nixon’s crimes, we need to consider how simultaneous prosecution in multiple venues could do great harm to a country that needs to begin healing.  Our concern is for our country, not for you.”
  • Trump:  “These are all witch …”
  • All:  “shut up and sit down.”
  • Garland:  “We have collectively decided, in the country’s best interest, to offer you a plea deal, a very simple plea deal.  In exchange for you acknowledging:
    • that the 2020 election was not stolen
    • that you and your allies attempted in various ways, to tamper with the legitimate election results
    • that you incited a violent insurrection on January 6, 2021
    • that you and your three children committed financial fraud involving your real estate transactions”
  • “You will be required to sign a document I am now handing to you, accepting full responsibility for the above noted violations of federal and state laws.  You will be admitting guilt to all official or prospective charges.”
  • “As for punishment for these violations of the law, you will pay all attorney and government prosecutor expenses involved in all the noted cases.”
  • “You will also acknowledge and agree to required actions such as making restitution for matters involving financial fraud in the minimum amount of $250 million.”
  • “As a condition of accepting this plea deal, you will acknowledge that you are in fact a convicted felon, and therefore, ineligible to be a candidate for or to hold an elected public position for any federal, state, or local office for the remainder of your life.”
  • Trump:  “this is ridiculous.  I’m being railroaded.  I…”
  • Garland:  “sign here and accept your consequences or be prepared for never-ending legal hell.”

Speaking of Republicans whose political careers are on shaky grounds

Jack O’Donnell and his lobbying firm associate Camille Brandon invited some local Democratic Party officeholders to attend a Speaker Series event including drinks and dinner with Congressman Chris Jacobs at the Buffalo Club in late August. O’Donnell makes appearances on TV and radio as a Democratic analyst, and Brandon has a long history with Democratic Party politics. Were they promoting Jacobs for something? His name comes up as a possible candidate for Erie County Executive next year. Jacobs’s reputation among his fellow Republicans seems to be in tatters these days following his break with the party on gun control issues.

Follow me on Twitter @kenkruly