While some Democrats have been whispering for weeks about finding a successor in the Assembly for Dennis Gabryszak, his Sunday resignation announcement now elevates political banter into pressing reality for either a special election or a September Democratic Primary.
The most prominent name to seriously surface since the resignation announcement is former Cheektowaga Councilman Jeff Swiatek, son of former town Supervisor Frank E. Swiatek. The younger Swiatek was unavailable for comment late Sunday, but he is known to be backed by some influential Democrats, who believe he may be eager to participate on a larger stage.
Supporters say Swiatek, a Hodgson Russ partner who heads the firm’s municipal law group, must settle questions about balancing his legal duties with an Assembly career, including any concerns over new efforts to press for client disclosure by attorneys serving in the Legislature chamber.
The same supporters say, however, that Swiatek’s previous concerns about family may now be alleviated as his children grow older.
“He’s got to get to the point where it works for him,” said one Democrat who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak for Swiatek. “But people in the community see him as a potential candidate who could bring together factions in a way that makes sense.”
Swiatek, 47, served four terms on the Town Board before announcing in 2011 that he would not seek a fifth. But his name always enters discussions about higher office, as it did in 2001 when he lost to Republican Nancy A. Naples in the hard-fought race for county comptroller.
One other element may guide upcoming deliberations on a Gabryszak successor: the desire of some Democrats to run a female candidate.
Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo acknowledged late Sunday that she is not involved in Cheektowaga politics but said the sexual harassment allegations that forced Gabryszak’s resignation spur her to urge selection of a woman.
“I’m kind of, sort of saying that,” Peoples-Stokes said, “even though people who lack integrity come in all genders and ethnicities. But there are very, very few incidents of these sorts of things occurring with women officials.”
The assemblywoman also said the area needs more female representation.
Others mentioned for the post include Lancaster Councilwoman Donna Stempniak, who expressed interest in the seat in 2006; Lancaster Councilman Ron Ruffino; Cheektowaga Councilman Jim Rogowski; and political operative Kristy Mazurek.
Mazurek is a talk show host on WGRZ-TV Channel 2 who was active in the 2012 Democratic Primary elections, and she is one of those who filed sexual harassment complaints against the assemblyman.
“More than likely, there will be a primary,” said one top Democrat who asked not be identified.
Several observers of Democratic politics from around the area say a primary would be most welcomed by State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, who barely hung on to his seat – which includes heavily Democratic Cheektowaga – in 2012 and is expected to face stiff opposition again this year.
County Legislator Betty Jean Grant and former Sen. Antoine M. Thompson are most often mentioned as potential challengers to Kennedy in a primary. Many Democratic observers theorize that Kennedy, running against one or more African-American opponents, would benefit from a strong turnout encouraged by a primary in the largely white Assembly district.