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Campaign thrown one last curveball Buffalo Niagara Partnership holds off endorsement in county executive race

Western New York's top business organization will offer no endorsement for county executive this year, despite Republican Christopher C. Collins' pledge to de-emphasize politics and "run government like a business."

That decision by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership was one of several issues dominating the last weekend of campaigning on Saturday, as Democrat James P. Keane hopscotched across the county to at least 12 events and Collins dropped literature in Amherst and the Town of Tonawanda before manning headquarters phone banks urging Republicans to vote on Tuesday.

"I'm upbeat and confident," Keane said.

His opponent said he is encouraged by Saturday's door-to-door activities.

"I had a couple of people who weren't planning on voting say they were now voting for me," Collins said. "I'm hoping for a very large voter turnout."

But the Partnership's unusual decision to bypass a major local election ranked as an important end-of-campaign development, especially since its endorsement has always served as a central event of most recent campaigns.

Partnership President Andrew J. Rudnick said the organization decided instead to report on where the candidates stand on its important issues.

"It really only makes sense if that endorsement actually is based on fundamental differences between candidates on actual business-impacting issues," Rudnick told members. "Moreover . . . with so many of our members having personal and/or business connections with so many of the candidates, we inevitably receive very strong and often competing requests for us to endorse one opponent or the other in the same race."

Rudnick said especially in the case of a local race, the organization decided to focus on candidates' stand on issues critical to the business community and to relate that information to them rather than endorse.

The Partnership's Committee for Economic Growth in recent weeks gave $2,500 to Collins' campaign and $1,500 to the Keane campaign. During the Democratic primary, the Partnership's committee gave $18,000 to failed Democratic primary candidate Paul T. Clark.

Nevertheless, Keane jumped on the Partnership's failure to endorse as "speaking volumes."

"It's very, very significant that the region's chief business organization will not endorse a guy who is a businessman," he said. "They've got him figured out. They know he's not a good businessman with good ideas, nor does he have answers for Erie County government. They know he is naive."

Keane also called it a "tacit endorsement" for him.

But Collins dismissed the move as an administrative one reached last year before any names were even floated for the office.

"They felt the proper role of the Partnership was to ferret out where the candidates stand on the issues," he said. "There's nothing to make a big deal out of."

Rudnick emphasized in his communication to members that both Collins and Keane support the Partnership's priority issues: dedication of the "bed tax" to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, implementation of the Framework for Regional Growth plan, improved management of county government, and close collaborations with the business community.

"Given that, our objective has to be to have the best possible working relationship with whichever of them wins the election," he said, "so that there's the best chance those positive positions are turned into real actions with measurable business benefit."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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