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'GOOD POLITICS' OF TAX FREEZE WARMS HEARTS OF LAWMAKERS

When County Executive Gorski announced his three-year tax freeze Tuesday, even estranged Democratic legislators such as Albert DeBenedetti and Gregory B. Olma crowded into the Gorski news conference to get in on the deal.

In fact, just about everybody wanted a piece of the action Tuesday as Democrats praised the idea and Republicans chided Gorski for not going far enough.

For Gorski's own Democrats, the unprecedented proposal provided a needed rallying point as a way of demonstrating the party's commitment to tax stabilization -- especially after several weeks of internal turmoil. Erie County legislators facing especially tough re-election prospects this fall took every opportunity to jump on the bandwagon.

"Obviously, it helps me," said Democratic Legislator Randi Cohen Kennedy of Amherst. "I'm really thrilled it's coming together now. Instead of saying this is something I want to do, it's something we are doing."

Indeed, after absorbing political hits in the Sept. 9 primary and criticism about his proposal to appoint a political ally to a temporary job, Gorski seemed to rebound big time with the announcement. Even observers such as former county Democratic Chairman Joseph F. Crangle, a longtime adversary, credited Gorski with a bold political move.

"I think it's remarkable, and it certainly is good politics," Crangle said. "It shows the competitiveness of these campaigns for the County Legislature, and takes a big issue away from the Republicans."

Gorski said the move becomes possible through a combination of factors, such as a decrease in county staffing, slashed welfare rolls, reduced Medicaid costs and the state's absorption of most costs associated with the new Rich Stadium lease for the Buffalo Bills.

He also said the move should be a selling point, both to businesses pondering whether to remain in Erie County or those considering a move here.

Still, there are plenty of Republican critics reiterating their long-held contention that Gorski could have announced such a move years ago. They say that if he can freeze taxes, he can cut them, too.

"A tax freeze is a tax increase -- it means they won't be lowered," said Cindy Vastola, who is challenging incumbent Democrat Lynn M. Marinelli for a legislative seat in the Town of Tonawanda. "I know there's money in that budget with all the phantom jobs, and if we get rid of those kinds of things, I know we can lower taxes."

Ms. Vastola acknowledged that the proposal sounds impressive to the average voter but said that voter needs to hear GOP proposals that go beyond the Gorski plan.

But Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon said Gorski's move is no ploy. It is being implemented now because it is the right thing to do, Pigeon said, adding that legislative candidates are right to endorse Gorski's conservative management of fiscal affairs.

While Gorski has dismissed any notion of running statewide in 1998, Pigeon has not. He continually mentions the county executive as a potential governor, and points to the tax freeze as a reason why.

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