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Lessons from Primary 2016

Some final reviews of Primary 2016, along with a look ahead:

• It appears Chairman Jeremy Zellner will think long and hard before his Democrats again place one of their own in a Conservative primary.

Conservatives, you recall, got behind Democrat John Flynn for district attorney early on. The minor party, which often makes the difference in tight races, offers one more alternative to general election voters.

But Republicans were one step ahead. Without tipping their hand, retired Air Force Col. Joe Treanor signed up with the Conservatives last fall. That allowed Treanor to not only challenge Flynn in the September primary, but also appeal to Conservatives as one of their own (for all of 11 months).

With big-time help from Erie County Republicans, Treanor emphasized his membership in the small universe of about 13,000 Conservative voters and coasted to victory. That’s the way it works in New York, where major parties often control minor parties.

The Republican effort also affixed the lowest label of all on Flynn. We’re not sure we can even say this in a family newspaper, but we’ll whisper the epithet and enclose it in parentheses so the kids can’t hear. (They called him a Democrat.)

Shocked! Shocked we tell you!

“We can’t win on the Conservative line,” Zellner observed. “They attacked John Flynn for being a Democrat.”

• Treanor, meanwhile, promises to pay for his own general election contest. And if polls show him competitive with Flynn, his campaign finance reports may reflect a serious commitment.

Still, Erie County has not elected a Republican district attorney since Dick Arcara back in 1985. It got even tougher when the DA election was switched in 1992 to presidential years, when heavily Democratic Erie County records its strongest turnout and votes along party lines.

If Treanor starts spending money, it may mean Donald Trump is running well in Erie County, too. Treanor will then hope voters will stay on the Republican and Conservative lines for him.

• The primary also revealed an alliance of convenience between Erie County Democratic Headquarters and City Hall. After several years of little or no communication, Zellner often points to the “strong relationship” with Mayor Byron Brown, who is also the new chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Still, the race for Erie County district attorney revealed complications. While Brown was on board for other Zellner-endorsed Democrats, he never signed on to the top priority – Flynn for district attorney. Interestingly, he remained neutral, while some allies toiled for Flaherty.

But others with strong links to his and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state Democratic Committee worked overtime for Michael Flaherty, the acting district attorney who lost a close one to Flynn on Tuesday. They included Peter Kauffman, a veteran of statewide Democratic efforts who handled communications from New York City; Rich Horner, a Buffalo political operative with long ties to the state committee; and Jim Eagan, former secretary of the state committee and another local who worked on the Flaherty effort.

Horner eventually left the Flaherty campaign, and Eagan resigned from the state panel. Zellner said those departures occurred after “we made a stink about it.” (Eagan says he long planned to leave.)

“You saw Horner drop off and Eagan leave the state committee,” Zellner said. “It was unacceptable for them to be working against the party.”

• Meanwhile, state Democrats convene in Buffalo Sunday and Monday, breaking from usual venues in Albany or New York. When you’re mayor of Buffalo and chairman of New York Democrats, the state committee often comes to you.

• Amherst Republicans continue to attract big names to their annual September dinner. On Wednesday state Chairman Ed Cox attended, as did 2010 comptroller candidate Harry Wilson. The Westchester financier is weighing a run for governor in 2018, and didn’t venture to Amherst just to sample Sean Patrick’s banquet menu.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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