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Man behind badge puts people first

It is the same to him, really. Only the job will change. His motivation is the same.

Ask any cop why he does it, and the answer is simple: To help people. This is the instinct that Dennis Delano carries with him, as he morphs from policeman to politician. This is the thread that connects the renowned Buffalo cold-case detective to his late-life career change.

Jumping from a job that is as real as a fist to the face to a profession synonymous with phoniness is not that large of a leap -- not when you examine Delano's basic instinct. Politicians have the power to help people, if they use it the way it should be -- but seldom is -- used. Delano, who is running for State Senate, wants to use the power that way. He may, against all odds, get the chance.

It is all but impossible to unseat a state legislator. The return rate is upwards of 95 percent. It is no surprise. Legislators draw their own districts and stuff them with same-party voters. They have a support army of people who owe their jobs to the party. These and other advantages cement the seats of established state lawmakers.

Upsetting that equation involves a hero cop who is stamped with integrity and looks like a humanized Yogi Bear. It involves underwhelming incumbent Bill Stachowski, who has little to show for 27 years in office (albeit in the minority party). A political novice, Delano -- who until lately did not know what "gerrymandering" meant -- admits he is learning as he goes.

It may not matter. Say "Delano" to the guy in the street, and Rorschach responses include honesty, character and commitment. Stack those adjectives against what folks think of most politicians, and it explains Delano's 13-point lead in a recent poll -- despite being a Republican in a Cheektowaga-based district with twice as many Democrats.

"People feel that they do not have a voice anymore," said Delano, wearing an untucked denim shirt and the usual hangdog look. "I feel that I can speak for them. We need to get back to the idea that politicians are there to help everyday people."

I met with him Thursday in the Tim Hortons in Cheektowaga. Minutes earlier, I got a glimpse of his appeal. A guy spotted him in the parking lot and walked over to shake hands.

"I told [Delano] I admire and respect how he tries to help people," Marlon Atkinson said. "He fights for us, not against us."

Delano built his common-man credentials by taking on Frank Clark, the bombastic district attorney. He argued that long-imprisoned Anthony Capozzi and Lynn DeJac were wrongfully convicted. Both are now free, and Delano's campaign ad with Capozzi's parents cuts straight to the core. After Clark's bizarre conclusion that DeJac's daughter was not murdered, Delano released to the media crime-scene video showing signs of struggle. It led to a suspension from his police job.

People see a guy paying a price to do what is right, and they remember it. Character counts, in real life and in politics.

Although some cops think he is a publicity hound, I do not see it that way. Delano made a key connection in the case that brought down serial rapist/killer Altemio Sanchez and freed Capozzi. But he always said that others on the Bike Path Rapist task force played equal parts. He spoke out on Capozzi and DeJac partly because, unlike others, he was near retirement and had less to lose. My sense, having dealt with him for nearly two years, is he is what he seems to be.

I do not know if he will be able to wade through the muck in Albany, if he gets there. But I know why he has a rare shot to unseat a state legislator. The choice between a hero cop and a career politician is never too hard.


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