POLLS A PIVOTAL FACTOR IN RACE FOR COUNTY EXECUTIVE - The Buffalo News

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POLLS A PIVOTAL FACTOR IN RACE FOR COUNTY EXECUTIVE

The polls -- those wonderful barometers of public opinion measuring the "horse race" of politics -- are on their way.

Each combatant in the battle for Erie County executive is already polling and repolling as the primary and general elections draw nearer. Some independent pollsters like the University at Buffalo's Gerald Goldhaber measure the sentiment of the electorate from time to time, and The Buffalo News will most likely redip into the poll pool this summer too.

As a result, poll results will emerge as a central theme of the 1995 campaign -- a role they have already assumed. Polls convinced Democratic Chairman Jim Sorrentino that incumbent Dennis Gorski was in trouble, prodding Sorrentino to back County Clerk Dave Swarts in the primary. Polls tell Gorski and his people he's not in such deep water after all. And polls tell Lucian Greco it just might be a Republican year too.

(The News, by the way, believes the horse race constitutes only a part of the electoral process. Our coverage will dwell mainly on issues, politics, trends, people, and what the candidates are really saying, as well as how you the voters react to the candidates and their stands on the issues. But where the race stands is important too.)

As poll results scream in headlines or sneak into the political rumor mill, however, the big winner at this stage is bound to be Swarts. With Gorski posting a 2-to-1 lead in the Frank and Jeanette Levin poll commissioned by The News in May, any gain by the challenger will be painted by Democratic Headquarters as major.

And if those gains are truly significant, as some who are familiar with polls are hinting, then Swarts will receive some of the recognition and even credibility he badly needs to challenge such an established figure as Dennis Gorski.

Some reports say the Democratic Party's extensive polling operation show Swarts making big gains in the wake of his recent TV blitz "introducing" him to the public. Of course, a Gorski counter-blitz could swing those numbers the other way too.

But the point is that the pros managing all three major campaigns this year will rely on polls all through the 1995 campaign. What those polls say may very well determine the money they attract, the messages they convey, and ultimately -- the success of their campaigns.

A sad commentary on the course of modern politics? Perhaps. But also a very real part of modern politics.

The big Democratic primary for county executive is starting to get serious with less than two months to go. As a result, both camps are appointing the various generals set to lead the charges of Field Marshals Gorski and Swarts.

For the Gorski forces, Assemblyman Paul Tokasz of Cheektowaga will assume command. A long-time close pal of the county executive, Tokasz will act as the general chairman of the campaign.

The assemblyman is thought to be one of Gorski's closest allies, someone who understands a hard-to-understand person as well as anyone.

"Dennis was looking for someone outside the administration who knew the players," Tokasz said last week. "He has confidence in me and there's no question about loyalty."

Acting as co-chairwoman will be former At-large Council Member Sheila Murphy, who also emerged from political retirement last fall to help in the Mario Cuomo re-election effort.

Some other big names in the Gorski campaign are Larry Adamczyk as headquarters manager. Adamczyk is also a long-time Gorski aide and skillful pol. Sharing some of Adamczyk's duties is Steve Casey, who formerly coordinated much of Sen. Anthony Nanula's political efforts.

For Swarts, former Cuomo and Gorski aide Tim Clark will act as campaign coordinator. Clark, 34, earned some high marks during Cuomo's Western New York efforts last year, and has since joined the ranks of professional political consultants.

Some reports say the Gorski camp also sought Clark's services. But this race forced a choice by Clark faced by many in the Erie County Democratic party these days.

Another familiar local political name, Joseph X. Martin, will play a key role in the upcoming Swarts campaign. Martin once served as Gorski's parks commissioner until his decision to unsuccessfully run for the County Legislature cost him his job.

Martin, too, knows the ropes of the local political scene. He managed Gorski's campaign in 1987, and was former Mayor Jim Griffin's top political strategist during Griffin's early years. That relationship ended in a now infamous fistfight between the two outside what was then called Pilot Field back in 1988.

Swarts includes several other well-known names on his staff, including Kathy Hochul, a Hamburg councilwoman and vice chairwoman of the party.

All of these staffers -- whether loyalists to Gorski or Swarts -- know they've gambled on which side will win. When this nasty fight is over, it's not likely the other side will be welcomed home soon.

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