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For a "down" time on the calendar, Western New York's politicos are making lots of interesting noise in recent weeks. They're weighing in on everything from reducing the size of the County Legislature to who's backing who for governor in 2002.

So in an effort to promote greater understanding of the Western New York political process, here are some recent headlines, along with a free translation for the politically challenged.

Jim Keane to head Hillary's office

Party Line: The close relationship of organization Democrats to the new senator resulted in the hiring of former Deputy County Executive Jim Keane to represent her in the Buffalo/Rochester area.

Translation: Erie County's political influence didn't amount to a particle in the effort to lure Keane out of a comfy retirement. Chalk this one up to the Queens Connection.

Several sources say Keane's appointment stems from his family's long friendship with Rep. Joe Crowley of Queens, who once served with Keane's brother, Dick, in the Assembly. Crowley is the brother-in-law of Ramon Martinez of Queens, a top Clinton aide, and the two have known each other for 20 years.

Martinez made the call to the one-time South District Council member, and Keane accepted.

"I said I would not say no to a U.S. senator," Keane said. "This is a special thing as far as I'm concerned. And to be working for someone special like Sen. Clinton is a bonus."

Party chairmen study downsizing Legislature

Party Line: Republican Chairman Bob Davis and Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon both mused last week that an expected drop in population in Erie County would justify a smaller County Legislature. That could also result in substantial savings.

Translation: The thought of reducing hot air levels at 25 Delaware Ave. may hold appeal for some, but the savings achieved would prove minimal, since nobody has mentioned corresponding reductions in staff levels.

In addition, the move would give both chairmen the opportunity to whack their respective "bad boys." Pigeon would love to eliminate recalcitrants Al DeBenedetti and Greg Olma, while Davis dreams of replacing Republican-in-name-only Bill Pauly.

Masiello war chest reaches $1 million

Party Line: The mayor is building his campaign fund to tell his story to Buffalo voters this election year, and to be prepared for any challenge that may come along.

Translation: The glut of campaign dollars now at the $1 million mark is designed to scare off any and all competition as Masiello prepares for a third term. The tactic seems to be working so far, though Council Member at Large Beverly Gray's discussions about entering the race are, without question, becoming more serious.

Barbara Miller-Williams eyes sheriff's race

Party Line: The Ellicott Council member is considering using her background as a Buffalo police officer to challenge Republican Sheriff Pat Gallivan.

Translation: There is no doubt Miller-Williams will run a spirited campaign should she ultimately decide to enter the sheriff's race, but not even the most optimistic Democrats predict victory in November.

Still, her candidacy could provide a huge boost for what now ranks as a major Democratic priority this year -- electing Cheektowaga Councilman Jeff Swiatek as county comptroller. The Miller-Williams candidacy could prove an attractive draw among staunchly Democratic African-American voters, who might stay on the Democratic line with Swiatek.

That comptroller's race, by the way, also looms as a long shot for local Dems. But Swiatek is a popular figure in a large town, has the right ethnic background, and might flex some muscles against a popular and well financed incumbent -- Republican Nancy Naples.

And as far as Chairman Pigeon is concerned, if Swiatek loses, he was supposed to lose. But if he somehow pulls it off, the chairman emerges as a hero.

Grassroots honchos attend Cuomo bash

Party Line: President Clarence Lott of Grassroots, the East Side political club, says the attendance of Grassrooters Maurice Garner and Byron Brown at gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Cuomo's "welcome home" party in Manhattan last week stemmed only from a friend's invitation -- no other significance should be implied.

Translation: No doubt that two of Buffalo's most recognized African-American political figures were invited to the swanky Fifth Avenue affair, but their presence also highlights an interesting facet of the 2002 contest between Cuomo and Carl McCall. At this point, anyway, you have to wonder if Grassroots is honing in on Cuomo because of the close relationship between McCall and Grassroots arch-nemesis, Deputy Assembly Speaker Art Eve.

And if Art Eve is for something, Grassroots is against it.

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