Robert McCarthy: Political trifecta of county races on tap - The Buffalo News

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Robert McCarthy: Political trifecta of county races on tap

In the grand scheme of local politics, this year’s trio of countywide races is not exactly fanning voter passions.

You won’t hear much water cooler debate over the county clerk, or even comptroller or sheriff – with all due respect to the honorable officeholders and their challengers.

Still, much is riding on these campaigns this year, as well as with several seats in the County Legislature. Some say Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner has the most to lose. It should be a cinch, after all, to win all of the above in overwhelmingly Democratic Erie County.

Others say his Republican counterpart, Nick Langworthy, faces the real pressure. His GOP reigns over all three countywide offices as well as the Legislature. They rank as his main bragging points, and he needs to keep them.

This year’s trifecta may star Republican County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw – an official, certified, card-carrying pain to Democratic County Executive Mark Poloncarz. So this race is important to Poloncarz, influencer-in-chief of the local party.

But Mychajliw has morphed from TV newsman into a significant political force of his own, prevailing in his first two elections. Now he heads toward November with about $90,000 in his campaign kitty, which his backers claim is far more than any sitting comptroller has ever reported at this point. That’s not a staggering number, but not too shabby either.

Last week the incumbent snared a key endorsement from the AFSCME public employee union, which his backers label important because he is a Republican wading into normally Democratic waters. It’s the same union that poured more than $300,000 into the Poloncarz effort against former Republican County Executive Chris Collins. Could AFSCME dollars loom in Mychajliw’s future too? Mychajliw has also claimed backing from a number of local PBAs, including Buffalo.

Zellner says his candidate – Vanessa Glushefski – is already a worthy challenger. She now has AFL-CIO backing to even up the labor scorecard, but only about $16,000 in the bank. The chairman likes her lawyer/CPA credentials and thinks her dual Polish and African heritage will appeal to a pair of major ethnic voting blocs.

“She’s more qualified than even Mark Poloncarz when he first ran,” he said, referring to the county executive’s previous comptroller races.

Zellner, meanwhile, wants the clerk race so bad he may be making novenas for former WBEN newsman Steve Cichon. The bet here is the chairman would absolutely revel in beating opponent Mickey Kearns.

A Democratic assemblyman who spurned his own primary this year and will run on the GOP and Conservative lines, Kearns looms as a major Zellner target. Headquarters takes every opportunity to skewer their renegade assemblyman from South Buffalo.

In the meantime, the Dems also feel confident about Bernie Tolbert in the contest for sheriff. He is well known as a former mayoral candidate and FBI man. But the Repubs point out that incumbent Tim Howard won a majority of the 2013 vote against two well-financed opponents, and that he will again prove tough to beat.

We’ll save ink for another Sunday to delve into this year’s efforts to control the Legislature, but suffice it to say that several seats are up for grabs and the competition for them will be fierce. One is slated for the 10th District, now held by Joe Lorigo.

The Conservative reported almost $148,000 to the state Board of Elections – a staggering war chest for a county legislator. But Zellner is bullish on Democrat Michele Schoeneman, and that leads to his authorship of the Quote of the Week: “She’s going to beat Joe Lorigo.”

Update Corner: Former Congressman Jack Quinn did not stay retired for long after stepping down from the presidency of Erie Community College earlier this summer. He has signed on with Barclay Damon, a major New York State law firm, to handle community relations.
“I’m taking out the clutch,” he said, “but not putting on the brakes.”

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