Jeremy J. Zellner, chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party and Democratic elections commissioner, is calling for the resignation of Republican Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, who appeared in uniform Saturday as a keynote speaker during the pro-Trump "Spirit of America" rally in Niagara Square.
During a news conference Sunday near his home in the City of Tonawanda, Zellner branded Howard's appearance as "disgraceful." Zellner said the 90-minute rally, which attracted several-hundred people, was orchestrated by white supremacists and hate mongers.
Zellner also said he will ask the State Attorney General's office to launch an investigation into the propriety of Howard appearing at that rally in full uniform.
Zellner also denounced Carl Paladino, another rally speaker, and noted that several months ago he called on Paladino to resign from the Buffalo School Board in the aftermath of racist comments about former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as minority members of the board.
"The rally was billed as a Trump rally but there were racists and white supremacists handing out literature," Zellner said. "For the top law enforcement official of Erie County to be the keynote speaker in uniform at such an event was disgraceful (and showed) poor judgment," he added.
Howard, he said, should have known the rally's true nature "and he should have condemned it."
In a statement released later, Howard noted that the rally drew white supremacists as well as counterprotesters from Black Lives Matter, and emphasized that he "does not honor any group that uses violent and discriminatory rhetoric."
He also criticized Zellner for the Democratic party leader's "ultra-left views."
"I stand by my speech," he added.
Zellner noted Horace Scott Lacy of Lewiston, reputed to be a white supremacist, was seen at the rally handing out racist literature in clear view of the sheriff and Paladino. Others, he added, displayed the Confederate flag.
Zellner said such rallies are "not what our community represents and it's not what our highest law enforcement official should be condoning."
Zellner said Howard's "pattern" of misbehavior in office began during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last year when he showed up as a Trump supporter "in full uniform."
Also Sunday, Bernie Tolbert, a candidate for the Democratic Party endorsement for Erie County Sheriff, issued a statement denouncing Howard as a "co-sponsor" of the rally.
"We can have difference political views and even robust disagreements but, in the City of Good Neighbors and throughout Erie County we can do better than that, for ourselves and our children," Tolbert said.
Tolbert added that if elected sheriff, he "will not lend my name or the sheriff's badge to offensive speech of any party or political persuasion."
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