The three co-workers discussing their coming votes in the Main Place food court a few days ago seemed to typify all that surrounds Thursday’s primary elections.
“Right now, I’d say Trump; that’s all anybody’s talking about,” said one woman who identified herself only as a South Buffalo Democrat. “I’m definitely leaning Republican.”
But there’s a problem with those plans: The presidential election isn’t until 2016, while New York State’s primary elections this week just don’t seem to register with anybody.
“I guess I’ve seen some things for judges on TV,” said another of the lunchtime trio, “but I can’t really tell you who’s running. And we’re usually pretty aware.”
As news of “The Donald” and “Hillary” and “Jeb” saturates the airwaves more than a year ahead of the presidential election, scant attention is paid now to the local contests.
And while there will be a contest for Erie County executive this year, it won’t take place until November.
The lack of any major countywide primary races this week, coupled with an unusual Thursday primary day (resulting from conflict with Jewish holidays), points toward a turnout of record low proportions, say a host of veteran observers.
“It will be the lowest ever,” predicted former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, a veteran of local elections dating from 1971.
“I suspect turnout will be very, very low. It will be lucky to break 10 percent.”
Former Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, of Clarence, who served a long stint as Erie County Republican chairman, said that with a lack of any countywide primaries, such as for county executive, and no significant contests for the County Legislature, the area appears “headed toward a ho-hum primary.”
“The party regulars are very aware,” Reynolds said, “but the rest of the public may very well forget there is even a primary on Thursday.”
Erie County voters are not used to ho-hum primaries – especially Democrats whose internal battles usually make Primary Day a raucous event. But anti-headquarters types appear to be lying low this year as their leader – former Chairman G. Steven Pigeon – remains largely inactive following the launch of state and federal investigations into his fundraising activities.
That means contests for county Democratic committee and judicial nominating convention delegates normally instigated by the party’s Pigeon wing also appear few and far between this year.
“It’s surprising there is not more activity in the party races as well as for judicial delegates,” Reynolds said, “particularly with the national restlessness against the establishment.”
The primary battles that have resulted do not appear to be stemming from the normal Democratic friction.
“Part of it is due to the luck of the draw,” Masiello said about the normal ebb and flow of elections, “and part of it is, there is no Steve Pigeon messing around with people.”
Several significant contests await voters in Niagara County, where Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster faces a Democratic primary from Councilman Glenn A. Choolokian. And in Lockport, Democrats Michael J. Pillot and Roger L. Sherrie are battling in a Democratic primary for the right to take on Republican Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey in November.
In Erie County, the countywide contest generating the most television advertising and that carries an element of Democratic factionalism surrounds Family Court. Although no signs of Pigeon’s direct involvement are evident, several of the former chairman’s key allies are helping the candidacy of Michele A. Brown.
Brown faces Kelly A. Brinkworth, who has the backing of party leaders, as well as Democrat Joseph T. Jarzembek and Republican Brenda M. Freedman in the Democratic primary. Brown, Brinkworth and Freedman are also running in the Republican primary. (Members of opposite parties are allowed to cross-file for county judicial posts).
Thursday’s expected low turnout could have implications for the results. Candidates backed by party organizations often benefit most in years of extremely low turnout. Party organizations work hard to get their supporters to the polls and have the means to phone or even transport their loyal voters.
Nevertheless, some contests have drawn attention and will draw other voters, too.
In Buffalo, Common Council Member David A. Franczyk faces challenges from Joseph A. Mascia and Samuel A. Herbert in a spirited battle in the Fillmore District, while Masten Democrats will choose from among Ulysees O. Wingo Sr., Sharon M. Belton-Cottman and Lamone A. Gibson for an open seat.
Other primary battles await voters Thursday, though mostly in the suburbs. Democrats in West Seneca, for example, will choose between incumbent Sheila M. Meegan and challenger Christina Wleklinski Bove for supervisor.
Republicans in Clarence will choose between incumbent David C. Hartzell Jr. and challenger Patrick W. Casilio for supervisor, while in Cheektowaga, there is a big Democratic showdown for supervisor, pitting Councilwoman Diane M. Benczkowski against Town Clerk Alice Magierski.
Aside from some town justice primaries in Hamburg and Aurora and a handful of Town Board races across the county, however, the ballot will appear fairly sparse for the few who bother trekking to the polls.
“In some towns and villages of Western New York,” Masiello predicted, “you’ll be able to count the number of voters on two hands.”