If you happen to lead a major political party in Erie County, you’re having a good day.
That’s because an aura of victory surrounds both the Republican and Democratic chairmen following a clean sweep Tuesday by the major parties’ endorsed candidates. It doesn’t happen always; upsets by challengers have happened in the past and will again in the future.
But this week the parties came through. As a result, here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s primary elections:
1. Party organizations matter – Candidates backed by the two headquarters not only won, but rolled to landslide victories. They included Democrats John J. Flynn Jr. for district attorney, Amber A. Small for 60th Senate District seat, and Monica P. Wallace in the 143rd Assembly District; as well as Republican Christopher L. Jacobs for Senate in the 60th District.
But the lesson political observers are absorbing this week is that while the days of ward heelers and rampant patronage may be over, party organizations make phone calls, knock on doors and spend money on behalf of their candidates. They also get results.
“Having an organization back good candidates with a great message matters,” said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy. “Having that infrastructure matters.”
2. Pigeon repudiated – Erie County Democrats worked hard to link indicted former Chairman G. Steven Pigeon to candidates opposing organization choices. They directed most of that effort to Kristy L. Mazurek, a longtime Pigeon associate ensnared in the ongoing investigation that lodged nine counts of bribery and extortion against him June 30.
Zellner’s Democrats never let voters in Cheektowaga and Lancaster forget that Mazurek served as treasurer of the WNY Progressive Caucus, the independent political committee sparking state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s investigation. That resulted in the charges against Pigeon and former State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek.
“This was a complete repudiation of Steve Pigeon and the people who supported him,” Zellner said.
3. Pigeon grounded? – It’s possible that Tuesday’s primary elections may have silenced for the foreseeable future any remnants of the forces that always opposed headquarters candidates since Pigeon’s departure in 2002. Many of them landed in the Mazurek campaign.
Zellner said other followers of Pigeon nested with acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr., who finished second to Flynn in a three-way race with Mark A. Sacha.
“From Day One, he surrounded himself with Pigeon people,” Zellner said, pointing to a petition gathering process that in many cases involved volunteers collecting signatures for both Flaherty and Mazurek.
“Democratic primary voters now realize what a huge problem he was for this community over the past 15 years.
4. Republicans gain a bonus – Langworthy won big with his committee’s decision to back Jacobs for the Senate. He doesn’t mind talking about it at all.
“Chris has a record of accomplishment,” he said of his rare Senate primary. “Stocker had absolutely no cause for his candidacy,” referring to Kenmore lawyer Kevin T. Stocker, who lost to Jacobs.
But Langworthy also emerged with an oblique victory that he considers more than significant – the Conservative line for his November district attorney candidate – retired Air Force Col. Joseph V. Treanor III.
A former officer in the Judge Adocate General’s Corps, Treanor signed up with Conservatives last fall. That allowed him to challenge Flynn in the Conservative primary after party leaders endorsed the Democrat in the spring.
Now, Langworthy fields a Republican candidate for district attorney in November bolstered by the often potent Conservative line.
“A lot of our decision to endorse Treanor loomed around the fact that as a registered Conservative, we knew he could compete,” Langworthy said. “We didn’t want to leave the job half done.”
Zellner, meanwhile, said the Treanor victory points to the increasing difficulty of any Democrat winning on the Conservative line.
“They attacked John Flynn for being a Democrat,” Zellner said. “It’s hard because we’ve got such a polarized situation.”
5. Treanor strengthened – The Conservative-Republican candidate faces a major uphill battle against Flynn in November, especially since Erie County’s Democratic registration advantage of 133,000 voters looms as an advantage via the strong turnout in a presidential election.
Still, Langworthy holds out equal hope that the allure of Republican nominee Donald Trump to many voters will work to Treanor’s advantage.
Although the GOP has not claimed the District Attorney’s Office since Richard J. Arcara won in 1985, Langworthy remains excited about the Treanor candidacy.
“Now, Democrats not wishing to vote on the Republican line can seek out Treanor on Conservative,” Langworthy said. “He beat John Flynn once; maybe he’ll do it twice.”