That's not the winds of change you can feel sweeping through the Erie County Legislature's chambers this week. It's more a sigh of relief, from the incumbents still lodged within.
Despite a county executive election driven by change and voter dismay, the Legislature emerged from Tuesday's elections virtually unscathed. The 13 incumbents running for re-election won. In the two districts where no incumbents were running, each party retained the seat it holds in the current Legislature. The political makeup of the Legislature remains a veto-proof 12-3 Democratic, posing a challenge for Republican County Executive-elect Christopher C. Collins.
The difference between the demand for change in the executive race and business as usual in the legislative ones is remarkable. It's also remarkable in juxtaposition to the 2005 elections, when strong public demand for change -- and dismay with the county budget fiasco -- roiled the Legislature.
Even in situations in which the rumor mill had incumbent Democrats in trouble, they not only came through but they came through soundly. Democrat Kathy Konst of Lancaster gained the confidence of 55 percent of district voters, defeating Republican Tom Ulbrich to gain her second term despite a Republican majority in her district.
Konst also triumphed despite Democratic Party displeasure over her going her own way on several key issues. Preserving her degree of issue independence was important, because the other independent voice in the Legislature -- Cynthia E. Locklear -- was ousted in the primaries by the party-backed Democrat, Timothy Wroblewski, whom she had beaten in 2005.
The one new face in the Legislature carries an old name, the one on the county office building. Republican Edward A. Rath III, grandson of the first county executive and son of State Sen. Mary Lou Rath, replaces Dr. Barry A. Weinstein of Amherst, who elected to leave the Legislature this year so he could run for Town Board.
For all of the heated campaign rhetoric about politics as usual and a need for change, voters seemed content with the Legislature they have -- one that settled down after the budget and across-the-board cost-cutting debacle of the pre-2005 election. It has been working steadily toward improving the county's fiscal position and reviewing the deadline decisions made in red budget, green budget haste.
Its challenge now is to craft a working political relationship with a radically different kind of county executive -- and to avoid making what should be a cooperative effort for recovery into a political battleground. Erie County can't afford that kind of bickering. It needs real leadership and real improvement, carefully planned through thoughtful and bipartisan work toward a more efficient and more affordable government.