It’s a new lonely political world for Democrat Mark C. Poloncarz.
The county executive, buoyed for the last couple of years by a friendly majority in the Erie County Legislature, now faces the prospect of holing up in a solitary Democratic outpost on the Rath County Office Building’s 16th floor, surrounded by Republicans, as of Jan. 1.
Following the GOP’s historic gains in Tuesday’s elections, Poloncarz looks down a few floors to see Republican Stefan I. Mychajliw safely ensconced as county comptroller.
Across the street, the Republicans will control the Legislature majority without Democrats for the first time since 1977. Also in County Hall, Republican Christopher L. Jacobs runs the County Clerk’s Office. And out in Orchard Park, another Republican – Timothy B. Howard – continues to direct the Sheriff’s Office for another four years.
Only District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III remains a countywide official to talk about “Democrat stuff” with the county executive.
The new Legislature will emerge as a “lot stronger entity” than in recent years, with a solid majority counterbalancing the executive, County GOP Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy said as he laid out new ground rules Wednesday while basking in the afterglow of Tuesday’s gains.
No clear battle lines have yet been formed in County Hall, but it is anticipated that major differences could evolve in approaches to issues like the overall budget, reorganization of Social Services’ functions, and money for roads and bridges – always a top Republican priority in their suburban and rural districts.
“I see a lot more checks and balances, and a lot more accountability the county executive has to have for the Legislature,” Langworthy said. “He can’t shove his agenda down anyone’s throats.”
Poloncarz, in the closest he comes to warning the new majority, says Republican legislators must have a sense of responsibility. “If they want to go out and throw bombs in the majority,” Poloncarz said, “they’ll find out it’s easier in the minority than in the majority.”
But nobody, even Langworthy, is declaring war on the opposing side. In fact, Langworthy speaks of negotiation and compromise.
Poloncarz says he has a fine working relationship with Minority Leader John J. Mills, who is expected to be elected Legislature chairman in January, and emphasizes he can work with anyone.
The county executive said he has or will call all of the winning legislators to offer congratulations and downplays the politics, while realizing it will gather even more steam as his own re-election year of 2015 grows nearer.
Poloncarz notes that he defeated Republican incumbent Chris Collins for county executive in 2011. And he said he is not backing off from his approach to county government just because potential rivals may already be gearing up to face him in two years. If he’s concentrating on any politics at all now, he said, it’s the re-election of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo next year.
Mills is emphasizing cooperation with the executive. But he is also making it known he starts the new year with a solid Republican majority that could be enhanced by incoming Democratic Legislators Barbara Miller-Williams and Patrick B. Burke – considered political free agents who have not yet aligned with anyone.
“He understands I can control my caucus pretty well,” Mills said. “As a politician, he also knows he has got to deal very seriously with us.”
And he did not dismiss the idea of enticing Democrats such as Miller-Williams, Burke or others to join his GOP caucus in potential attempts to override Poloncarz vetoes.
Langworthy, meanwhile, is quick to point out that his Republicans may want more. He pointed to gains from a 12-3 minority of just a few years ago to the 6-5 majority the party will establish in January.
Poloncarz said that even though some Democrats woke up Wednesday “dismayed” by their new disadvantage, he is not particularly worried.
“There was a glorious sunrise this morning,” he said. “And it will set tonight, and come up again tomorrow morning.”