Mayor Masiello and County Executive Gorski, personally and politically estranged in recent months, are talking.
For the second time in as many days, Masiello and Gorski huddled Thursday afternoon in an attempt to work out ways for Erie County and the City of Buffalo to consolidate services.
With Erie County Democratic Chairman Vincent J. Sorrentino's much-anticipated endorsement for county executive serving as a backdrop, the meetings assume added significance.
At Sorrentino's request, Western New York's two top political leaders have floated several ideas on addressing the city's precarious financial position. Though neither will discuss details, they acknowledged that new ways to share services stand at the heart of the conversations.
"I recognize the fact that the largest municipality in the County of Erie is its most significant, and that we want to be helpful," Gorski said. "He recognizes that one municipality can't be treated disfavorably."
Masiello, whose preference for county executive will weigh heavily with Sorrentino, also expressed optimism about the talks.
"It was a good opening session," Masiello said. "We've still got a lot of territory to cover and we need to do it quickly. But we agreed there would be serious discussions between our top fiscal people. We're getting there."
The outcome of the talks, though, will have political consequences, too.
"It certainly will enter into it," Sorrentino said Thursday regarding his endorsement decision and the ability of Gorski and Masiello to work together. The chairman has indicated he will decide next week whether he will back Gorski for re-election or support challenger David J. Swarts, the Erie County clerk.
Masiello and Gorski have feuded since the mayor assumed office last year over what role -- if any -- the county should play in assisting the city. Masiello has insisted that Erie County share part of its eighth percentage point of sales tax with the city, while the county executive cites his government's dependence on all the dollars generated by the tax.
In the meantime, with Gorski and Swarts scrapping to receive Sorrentino's crucial backing, the chairman has urged the mayor and county executive to settle their differences. And though county officials say such plans have long been under consideration, it is known Gorski brought Masiello a plan to share services.
"Hopefully, there will be some meaningful sharing of services between the county and city," Masiello said.
Still, some City Hall sources say ideas for consolidating services should only serve as the starting point. They claim sales tax revenue is growing and that the county can afford to share those proceeds without major pain.
But while the meetings between the two could prove important in terms of closer city-county cooperation, they also loom large on the political horizon. Sorrentino has hinted in recent days that any evidence of closer cooperation between the two could help Gorski's case. And most political observers also feel Sorrentino and Masiello will be of one mind by the time the chairman reaches an endorsement decision next week.
"My role is to gain support from all segments of the Democratic Party, and to do that without being unfair," Gorski said. "Simultaneously, I want to be helpful. If there are any residual political benefits from that, I'm happy."
In the meantime, Gorski continues to display his strength in the days leading to the endorsement. His fund-raising party at Salvatore's Italian Gardens Thursday night was expected to draw about 400 people at $100 a ticket, bringing his war chest to more than $400,000.
In addition, he received the endorsement of five of Erie County's Democratic members of the State Legislature -- Assemblymen Paul S. Tokasz, Sam Hoyt, Richard J. Keane and Francis J. Pordum, as well as state Sen. Anthony R. Nanula.
Assemblyman Robin L. Schimminger is still a candidate for the county executive post and therefore did not endorse Gorski, while Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve is on the political outs with Gorski and is not expected to support him. Erie County's other Democrat in Albany, Sen. William T. Stachowski, said he will support whomever is endorsed by the party.