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County Legislator Joan K. Bozer, a lifelong Republican who says she can no longer identify with the GOP, will join the Democratic Party and seek re-election this year as a Democrat.

The only elected Republican in the City of Buffalo, Mrs. Bozer said Friday that the party's drifting from urban issues, as well as its stand against abortion and on other social issues, contributed to a decision she has considered for years.

"I have had to do a lot of soul-searching about what I was loyal to," she said. "And I decided I had to be more loyal to issues and principle than to party.

"I'm not leaving the Republican Party as much as the national Republican Party has left me," she added.

Though Mrs. Bozer has sided with the County Legislature's Democrats on many issues, her move weakens Republican clout in a body where GOP gains had trimmed the Democratic majority to a thin 9 to 8. She says she will consider herself a Republican for the remainder of her current term, but she will immediately begin closer association with the Democrats in a move that could effectively increase their majority to 10-7.

Mrs. Bozer had even been seriously courted by GOP officials as a mayoral candidate this year, but her switch now ends any such possibility.

"Her actions throughout her professional life have been very much a part of our philosophy, and I think it will be an easy transition," said Erie County Democratic Chairman Vincent J. Sorrentino. "I look forward to her running and organizing with our party."

Mrs. Bozer said her move reflects a stronger attraction to the pro-urban and pro-woman policies of the Democrats, especially problems of urban decay in her West Side district. The key element of her decision, she said, was that she would prove more effective for her district as part of a political organization more in tune with her constituents.

"I feel we have a new administration in Washington that has pledged to address these needs," she said. "Under Republican leadership, the cities have suffered terribly."

"I feel the representative of my city district must be in the most advantageous position possible to work with state and national leaders," she added.

But she also said her 1992 unsuccessful congressional bid for the seat retained by Rep. John J. LaFalce contributed heavily to her decision. When she was passed over for the GOP endorsement by the Republican organizations in Erie, Niagara, Orleans and Monroe counties, she said she knew she must reassess her position.

"I'd be less than honest if I didn't say that was a real wake-up call," she said. "The party did not recognize the issues of a city-based Republican. It made me really ask myself how best to represent the people of this district."

Erie County Republican Chairman Thomas M. Reynolds said he was unaware of Mrs. Bozer's decision until informed by The Buffalo News. He said he wished his former colleague in the County Legislature well, but added that a congressional endorsement for Mrs. Bozer in 1992 was impossible after she could not support George Bush as the party's candidate for president.

That caused real concern because of the threat of the presidential election being decided by the House of Representatives through the candidacy of independent candidate Ross Perot.

"In retrospect, that certainly had an impact in that room," Reynolds recalled, adding that Mrs. Bozer now becomes the first woman Democratic legislator.

"We've enjoyed three," he said.

Mrs. Bozer, 65, has represented the heavily Democratic West Side in the County Legislature since 1978. She said she believes she will continue to enjoy support there because of her "identification" with issues rather than party.

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