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Griffin's running again Former mayor files petitions for county executive nomination

Jimmy Griffin obviously knew the drill when he ambled into the Erie County Board of Elections office on Tuesday morning. After all, he has a half-century of political experience.

The former four-term mayor of Buffalo greeted board workers by name, bantered back and forth with reporters, signed the necessary documents and dropped off about 4,700 signatures on designating petitions to make him an official candidate in the Democratic primary election for county executive.

Then he turned to shake hands with every one of the approximately 10 cronies who accompanied him and made no effort to hide his strategy.

"We learned from these people that they want change, and they want a leader," Griffin said about those who signed his petitions. "They want someone who will give them a straight and honest answer."

For the 78-year-old Griffin, it's one more turn at the wheel in a career featuring two previous runs for county executive, as well as campaigns for the Common Council, State Senate, mayor, the Assembly and even president of the United States.

And like so many times before, he dismissed conventional wisdom about raising money and playing political games. He predicted voters would turn to his leadership and experience, mentioning as many times as he could "straight talk and honest answers."

"In all my time in office, I think I did that," he said.

People in the other Democratic camps, though, downplayed the return of Griffin to the political front.

"Jim Griffin is all about the past," said Donald A. Van Every, a spokesman for the James P. Keane campaign.

Griffin's underdog campaign for county executive will be as unconventional as many of his old efforts, he hinted Tuesday. When asked about his lack of any campaign treasury in the face of staggering amounts reported by his opponents earlier in the week, he pointed to his 1977 mayoral victory on a minor party line that stemmed from a campaign budget of only $50,000.

"It's shoe leather, and that doesn't cost a lot of money," he said.

He explained how he and his band of supporters visited the bingo games, senior citizens centers, public festivals and Knights of Columbus halls to gain more than twice the required number of signatures (2,000) needed to qualify for the Sept. 18 ballot.

"We even went to bars," he chortled, "though I don't know why we went to bars."

While some observers question whether his signatures will withstand the scrutiny of his Democratic opponents -- Keane and Paul T. Clark -- Griffin conveyed a "been there, done that" attitude. All the while, familiar and loyal supporters such as Ronald J. Anthony -- with him for much of the last three decades -- smiled proudly in the background as their man went at it again.

Griffin and Keane have been political foes since the 1980s, and some speculate the animosity might be one factor that spurred Griffin to run for the county's top job. Griffin's roots run deep in his South Buffalo, which is also Keane's home turf.

But Van Every said it would be wrong to assume that Griffin will siphon off South Buffalo votes that might otherwise go to Keane in the September primary.

Many voters who lived in South Buffalo during Griffin's decades in elective office have moved to the suburbs, Van Every said. He added that when Griffin served as a state senator, his district included West Seneca.

Van Every didn't mention Clark by name, but the implication was clear -- the Keane camp is suggesting that Griffin has the potential to siphon just as many votes from the West Seneca supervisor.

"People are overestimating Griffin's effect on this candidate," Van Every said, referring to Keane. Many voters in South Buffalo will also take into account that Griffin abruptly resigned from his Common Council seat in 2004 after serving only 15 months of his four-year term, Van Every predicted.

While many Clark supporters have been salivating over the prospects of seeing two South Buffalo political titans appear on the September ballot, Clark wouldn't speculate on what some have called the Griffin effect.

"I'm going to let the pundits hash out that one," Clark said. "I plan on winning this regardless of who is in the race."

Clark said he thinks voters benefit when more people are in the race, claiming it spurs additional dialogue.

Is Griffin a serious candidate?

"He certainly seems to have gathered quite a few signatures," Clark replied. "But financing is a different story."

While many observers say the former mayor cannot be considered a serious contender until he raises money, Griffin was quick to point out he has scheduled an Aug. 17 event at the Bison City Rod and Gun Club.

"It's only $20, no more, no less," he said. "No split clubs, no nothin.' Beer, pizza, potato chips and pretzels, and a lot of laughs. My wife, Margie, says maybe I can use some of my First Communion money from back in 1936 at St. Brigid's" church.


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