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Republicans form committee to line up county executive candidate

Republicans may not have a plethora of candidates clamoring to run for county executive this year, but that doesn't mean the party isn't promising a top-notch contender.

Local GOP officials announced Monday that a special committee had been formed to find someone with sterling credentials, ideally from both the private sector and government, to carry the party standard. The panel, to be headed by former State Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco and Philip Ackerman, chief executive officer of National Fuel, hopes to find its candidate by early spring.

James P. Domagalski, the Republicans' county chairman, said the party wants to present voters an option rooted in experience and leadership.

"We're looking for a strong leader with a vision for the future of Erie County," Domagalski said at a morning news conference in the Statler Towers. "Ideally, it would be someone like a CEO, a true leader, not a recycled and longtime politician just looking for a new job.

"This does not rule out people in government, but it requires someone who has demonstrated success in something else," he added.

The Buffalo News reported several weeks ago that Domagalski would establish such a panel to find a candidate to present to the party's Executive Committee for endorsement. Its formation signals the "new direction" Domagalski has promised, as Joel A. Giambra, the Republican incumbent, enters the last of his eight years as county executive.

Indeed, the new search committee includes many strong critics of Giambra, and Domagalski described the challenge as finding a successor acceptable to all sectors of the party -- and without a primary.

"We want to lower taxes, create jobs and create prosperity," said Vacco, now an Albany lobbyist. "To me, that's a message that crosses party lines."

The committee faces daunting odds. Democrats outnumber Republicans in Erie County by almost 144,000 voters -- the largest advantage ever. Many Republicans across the state were defeated in last November's Democratic landslide year, and Giambra receives low ratings following a county financial crisis.

But Domagalski said he believes the party can find a genuine alternative to the familiar faces of Democratic candidates lining up so far. To date, only Amherst Council Member William A. O'Loughlin officially has declared himself a Republican candidate. Domagalski said he exemplifies the kind of person in which the party is interested because of his experience in both government and the financial industry.

The chairman, who previously expressed disappointment in O'Loughlin's early declaration, said other Republicans are quietly interested.

"We're encouraged by the fact that people are willing to buy into our process," he said, "as opposed to the free-for-all the other side will probably engage in."

Domagalski said the committee plans to interview former State Secretary of State Christopher L. Jacobs, a local developer. He also mentioned Assemblyman James P. Hayes of Amherst, who has indicated he does not plan to enter the race.

Another person mentioned by Republican leaders, Marsha S. Henderson, a former KeyBank regional president who is now vice president of external affairs at the University at Buffalo, also has indicated she is happy in her current post.

In addition to Vacco and Ackerman, the search committee consists of Elise M. Cusack, a former county legislator and current State Power Authority trustee; Colleen DiPirro, president of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce; Diana Gernatt-Saraf, legal counsel for Gernatt Asphalt; Mark Hamister, president of the Hamister Group; Anne Leary, chairwoman of the Erie County Library Foundation; Michael Nolan, Elma supervisor; and Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., owner of Somerset Capital Partners.

Also, Michael B. Powers, first vice chairman of the party and a partner in the law firm Phillips Lytle; Stephanie Williams Torres, director of medical affairs at Kaleida Health; Carmen Vacco, second vice chairman of the party, owner of Vacco Farms and Dennis Vacco's father; Peter Vito, president of Peter Vito and Associates; and Scott Zylka, government affairs director for Associated Builders and Contractors.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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