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Mills to become Erie County Legislature minority leader Republican from Orchard Park to succeed Amherst's Weinstein

Barry A. Weinstein, the Erie County Legislature's Republican minority leader, said Tuesday he will hand the title to Legislator John J. Mills of Orchard Park as Weinstein serves out the final year of his legislative career.

Ordinarily minority leaders, or majority leaders for that matter, cannot decree their successors. They need most of the members in their partisan caucus to agree.

But the County Legislature has just three Republicans. So Weinstein and Mills create a ruling bloc, even if Republican Michael H. Ranzenhofer of Clarence were not inclined to go along.

Mills has become a moderating influence on the Legislature, someone loath to play politics for the sake of politics.

Still in his first term, he often sits with majority Democrats when they prepare for meetings, a clear departure from past practice when Republicans and Democrats met in their own corners.

"I have purposely reached out, especially to the new legislators," Mills said. "In order to make a change, you have got to work with everyone. I think it worked.

"I think there was too much fighting between the parties. And what we were supposed to be doing, fixing Erie County, was being put aside because of politics," he said.

Mills doesn't always vote with Democrats, however; he voted against the the 2007 budget, a pay raise for some legislative aides and a call to keep the county's sales tax at 8.75 percent.

All passed with votes from the Democratic caucus, which controls the Legislature, 12-3, and has been known to grumble when certain lawmakers avoid the politically risky votes that are considered necessary to keep the government running.

During the Legislature's annual organizational meeting Monday, Mills will hand up the document that shows the Republicans have selected him as their leader.

The post carries a $5,000 stipend atop a legislator's base pay of $42,588 a year.

Weinstein, who is sending his political career in a new direction, had agreed to serve only one year as minority leader before turning the title over to Mills.

He will remain in the Legislature but will not seek re-election in November.

He will have served 10 years by then, and it will be time to let someone else in his district have a chance, he said.

Weinstein might run for the Amherst Town Board.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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