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Flaherty has accomplished enough as acting DA to win our primary endorsement

Editor’s note: Today’s endorsement by The Buffalo News editorial board is intended to aid voters in their evaluations of the candidates. Whether you agree or disagree with our recommendations, we urge registered party members to vote in their party’s primary Tuesday.

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The good news for Democratic voters is that they have the benefit of choosing among three qualified candidates for the nomination for district attorney, all of whom would bring value to a powerful position.

All things considered, however, we believe Acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr. has a slight edge. We endorse him, though not without some caveats.

The election pits Flaherty against former Assistant District Attorney Mark A. Sacha and John J. Flynn Jr., whose background includes a short stint as a prosecutor in the DA’s Homicide Bureau, as well as a town justice, town attorney and councilman in the Town of Tonawanda.

Flaherty, 51, inherited the District Attorney’s Office this year when his former boss, Frank A. Sedita III, won election as a state Supreme Court justice. That is both Flaherty’s advantage and his burden.

Flaherty has used his incumbency effectively, in particular by reopening the case against former Evans bar owner Gabriele P. Ballowe, suspected in the hit-and-run death of Barry T. Moss. A grand jury had voted to indict Ballowe based on compelling but circumstantial evidence, but was persuaded, at the insistence of Sedita, to rescind the vote.

Flaherty said he agrees that the evidence was insufficient at that time, but he went back to witnesses, obtained new evidence and secured an indictment that has stuck. It was what Moss’ family – and county residents – deserved.

Was it political, in that it was meant in some way to bolster his candidacy? Perhaps, but it was still the right thing to do.

Flaherty’s opponents have worked to tie him to Sedita, who was justly criticized for timidity in prosecutorial decisions and an insufficient commitment to the problem of public corruption. If Flaherty is elected, part of his job will be to show that he is a different kind of leader. He will also need to repair the office’s troubled relations with police departments, where antipathy to Sedita ran high.

We are troubled, too, by Flaherty’s action in dunning his staff for donations to his campaign. Whatever the history of such actions, it’s an abuse of authority. The county needs to outlaw it in all political races.

Flynn, 50, has a long and varied résumé, and with a continuing Navy career, obvious leadership abilities. He promises to pursue all legitimate cases without regard to the likelihood of conviction. But he has no real experience in managing any large office, let alone a prosecutor’s office. He pitches his “outsider” status as an advantage, but Flaherty’s nearly 20 years in the office – including eight as the top deputy – are more persuasive.

It’s also more reassuring that, while Flynn has the Democratic endorsement, Flaherty would come into office not beholden to political bosses. We presume Flynn to be an honorable man, but the endorsement offers a way to distinguish between credible candidates.

Sacha, 58, is passionate about ethics and, in fact, lost his job as an assistant district attorney because of it. He went public with his criticism of the office’s failure to prosecute public corruption and Sedita fired him for his trouble.

He had long and varied experience in the DA’s Office, but seems in some regard focused on settling the score by winning the office against Flaherty, Sedita’s former lieutenant. Sacha, too, is an honorable man, but doesn’t make the case against Flaherty, who has performed well since January.

The winner of Tuesday’s primary election will face Republican Joseph V. Treanor III in November. There is also a Conservative Party primary Tuesday pitting Treanor against Flynn, who is cross-endorsed. It’s New York.

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