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Battle lines are being drawn

Erie County Republican Chairman Jim Domagalski's high-powered search committee convened for the first time last week in its effort to find a candidate for county executive this year.

There are probably those who consider that progress. But in the meantime, the race is under way.

West Seneca Supervisor Paul Clark last week noted $452,000 in his campaign kitty. And that, sports fans, makes him a serious contender.

Jim Keane, meanwhile, reported $101,000 in his account. Once he makes his candidacy official on Friday, that total will grow. The former deputy county executive donor list shows support from most of the power sectors of the Democratic Party, including the old Gorski Gang, Rep. Brian Higgins and City Hall.

And just to make things really interesting, former Mayor Jim Griffin has been calling old friends and supporters as he gets ready to enter the Democratic fray.

"I'm seriously looking at it," Griffin said late last week. "I'm calling people to see where they stand on different things, and getting some of the old gang back together."

Many of those supporters hail from Keane's turf, and Griffin's phone calls only make Clark flash a wide smile.

Some say the former mayor's latest candidacy is just a jab at Keane an old archenemy. But Griffin says he's got real concerns. He dwells on old favorites like sharing a meaningful portion of county sales tax with municipalities.

"And our economic development is terrible," he said. "My grandson could do a better job."

Domagalski's search committee must also look over its own shoulder. Amherst Council Member Bill O'Loughlin is happy to cooperate, but he's running -- committee or no committee.

He has dropped $100,000 of his own money into his campaign. He has slick new literature, a campaign headquarters in Williamsville and a staff of eight -- including four who are paid.

While Domagalski and Co. hope a search process will unite the party, O'Loughlin threatens a primary.

"Unequivocally, positively, and absolutely, I will be in this race until November," he said. "And I mean unequivocally, positively, and absolutely."

The phones are ringing. The big money is flowing. The campaign headquarters are opening. It's happening.

And then there's the search committee. It had its organizational meeting last week.


A few other nuggets gathered along the campaign trail:

*Financial reports show former County Clerk Dave Swarts dropped $5,000 on Democratic Headquarters on Jan. 2 before motoring off to Albany to become DMV commissioner. His deputy, Kathy Hochul, contributed another $1,000 on the same day -- which doesn't hurt her efforts to succeed Swarts as clerk.

*Former Mayor Tony Masiello remains a powerful force in local politics with $679,000 still in his campaign account. The mayor spent about $25,000 in the last six months of 2006, mostly on Democrats. But GOP friends like Rep. Tom Reynolds and Sen. Dale Volker fared nicely by him too.

*Higgins' recent criticism of former Gov. George Pataki's upstate economic development efforts did not go unnoticed by Pataki's spokesman, David Catalfamo.

*"I certainly wish the new governor luck in tackling these issues, but I actually think the bar is set pretty high by Pataki when it comes to attention, effort and investment," he said.

*And in an annual rite of January, the Politics Column takes this opportunity to remind Erie County Independence Chairman Tony Orsini to file his January campaign finance reports, just like the other chairmen do and just like the law requires. He might even want to file his July 2006 report -- only six months overdue.


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