Although Democratic sheriff’s candidate Bernard A. Tolbert hasn’t formally conceded Tuesday’s tight election, it is likely that once the absentee ballots are counted incumbent Republican Timothy B. Howard will retain his slender claim to a third term. If so, that will provide the sheriff four years to improve his reputation for evasiveness and poor decision-making. We hope he’ll take full advantage of the gift that voters have presented him.
At week’s end, Howard led Tolbert by 3,850 votes with 12,000 absentee votes yet to count. The outcome could yet change, but history strongly suggests it won’t. That means that unless Howard makes changes in how he manages his department, elements of the SAFE Act may or may not be enforced, jail personnel will continue to misreport suicide attempts to state overseers and the sheriff will continue shielding deputies who may be responsible for an inmate’s death. And he will continue to feel entitled to show up at political rallies in full uniform.
All those things have happened on Howard’s frequently negligent watch. Whatever reasons Howard’s voters had for supporting him, those can’t be among them. Having said before the election that this will be his last campaign, Howard’s obligation to himself, his department and his constituents is to leave a legacy of able management for his eventual successor.
Two other countywide races also went to candidates running on the Republican line: Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw won a second full term by defeating Democrat Vanessa A. Glushefski while Michael P. Kearns – actually a Democrat – won the vacant office of Erie County clerk by defeating Steven J. Cichon.
We have little doubt the clerk’s office will be in capable hands. Kearns, who has a stubborn and welcome independent streak, isn’t well liked by Democratic Party officials, but he has served capably both as a member of the Buffalo Common Council and as a state assemblyman. He has work to do regarding the too-long process of issuing pistol permits, but voters can have confidence in his abilities.
Mychajliw was, in many ways, a disappointment as comptroller. The former television news reporter brought an over-the-top, show-biz quality to the job, especially early on, and showed astoundingly poor judgment by accepting tuition money from people whose organizations his office might need to audit.
If his second term is to be more successful, he will need to tone down the inflammatory rhetoric that he continues to use – if he doesn’t know, it’s possible to connect with voters without insulting their intelligence – and, even more important, to commit to common-sense ethics by avoiding obvious and troubling conflicts of interest. Without those changes, his second term will be no more successful than the first and that will put a drag on whatever other political ambitions he may harbor.
The other significant race turned out to be in the County Legislature’s Eighth District, where the Republican incumbent, Ted B. Morton, was defeated by John Bruso, flipping control of the Legislature to Democrats. It’s always cause for concern when one party has a hold on both the executive’s office and the Legislature. The temptations can be great.
It’s true that Mark Poloncarz has done a generally good job of controlling county spending. How much of that was due to the influence of a Republican-led Legislature may soon become evident. Regardless, both parties in the chamber need to remember they are a co-equal branch of county government and that their loyalty goes to their constituents, not the county executive.