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DEMOCRATS TAKING STOCK OF GIAMBRA'S WINS

There was no panic or sense of urgency around Gorski headquarters on the day after the county executive suffered serious setbacks in Tuesday's primary elections.

But was there concern? You bet -- and plenty of it.

After Republican challenger Joel A. Giambra trounced County Executive Gorski in the Independence Party primary and Jeffrey L. Baran in the Republican primary, Gorski strategists began analyzing what paths they must follow to resurrect the support that sustained him through three previous county elections.

And the fact that Western New York's most recognizable and most powerful Democrat suffered a defeat in the Independence primary is fueling that concern -- despite the relatively small pool of about 1,500 voters who participated. As some Democrats address the realization that Gorski is vulnerable this fall, concern mounts because of factors at stake such as these:

A powerful Gorski empire assembled over 12 years, translating into hundreds of Democratic jobs and substantial patronage power, threatened by the possibility of a Gorski defeat in November.

Chairman G. Steven Pigeon's continuing leadership of the local Democratic Party. As Gorski's hand-picked appointee, some say he would face serious challenges should his patron lose.

The need for a strong organization in Erie County as expected U.S. Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Gore begin statewide campaigns in 2000 -- when success in Erie County is deemed crucial.

"This is the most important race in the state this year," said one statewide Democrat familiar with the situation. "We need Gorski to win."

The strong Tuesday performance of Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve, who helped encourage turnout in African-American districts and who emerged with new clout.

The effect of Eve's resurgence on the Common Council and Mayor Masiello, who must now be cognizant of the state lawmaker's political prowess.

While rejoicing in his Tuesday victories, Eve would not address what steps he will take in the upcoming Gorski-Giambra contest.

Eve, who is not close politically or personally with the county executive, indicated he has not spoken with him in months and left open what course he will follow between now and November.

"I'll be meeting the ministers," is all he would say, referring to African-American religious leaders.

All of this combined to cause Gorski people to ponder their next move. "Any time you finish a primary, you reassess things," Pigeon said. "We'll be doing that over the next week."

"This is a bump on the road, but it won't knock us down," added Steven M. Casey, a Gorski strategist. "We're confident in the strategy we've laid down since day one."

Others were less cheerful. Even some Democratic insiders indicated they were stung by an Independence contest that Gorski didn't need to enter in the first place and that now provides Giambra with crucial momentum.

"I think Giambra should be tremendously excited," said one local Democratic insider. "And I don't think Gorski can now construct a supermajority of people who believe he should be running after 12 years."

"They don't hate him," the source added. "They just think things aren't going well, and it's time to give it to somebody else."

Republicans were even blunter. They acknowledged they view Gorski as wounded, though by no means mortally. But they were heartened by Giambra's success despite the full-scale involvement of Gorski forces in the Republican and Independence contests as well as a massive advertising campaign.

"To win with 64 percent of the vote is a huge statement," said Erie County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis. "And this also says that close to half a million dollars in advertising (by Gorski) didn't work."

Even Gorski's closest advisers recognize his 12-year tenure has contributed to a "shelf life" that remains his most daunting impediment. That's why they will continue attacking Giambra's record as city comptroller while emphasizing the county executive's accomplishments and future plans.

"We're going to continue to talk about Joel's record but in conjunction with our own," said one Gorski lieutenant. "We've got to talk more about Dennis' accomplishments and where he's going to take the county."

Pigeon, meanwhile, said there should be no concern over his future as party chairman.

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