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The Erie County Legislature's next official business will be to designate a chairman of the badly divided body.

It will take nine votes and will not occur until Jan. 8, but heavy politicking already is under way.

The present chairman -- Legislator Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore -- has the support of eight of the 10 Democratic legislators.

"I am seeking re-election as chairman of the Erie County Legislature for 1998, and I have eight Democratic legislators that have signed my petition," Swanick said Friday. "I will continue to seek the remaining signatures from the Legislature in my quest to (be) re-elected chairman."

What Swanick does not have is the support of Buffalo Democrats Albert DeBenedetti and Gregory B. Olma. Democratic leaders opposed them during the election, and since then they often have voted with Republicans on issues where the parties split.

Olma, too, wants the Legislature chairmanship.

"Once it's clear to people Chuck can't put it together, I think there will be some new arrangements made," he said.

The position of chairman also involves control of Legislature jobs, "public benefit" or patronage money and a pivotal appointment to the Erie County Water Authority, a fount of summer jobs.

Democratic leaders said that with eight votes pinned down, Swanick will be able to get a ninth. If it does not come from a Democrat, it would have to come from one of the seven Republicans.

Legislator William A. Pauly, R-Amherst, at times takes a separate line and gives Democrats a needed vote on a variety of issues. Pauly said what is important is not the petition but the votes on the floor Jan. 8.

"I'm not making any public statement yet," said Pauly. "It's important for that decision to be worked out within the Democratic caucus. We still have some time to play out here. I think the Democrats have an opportunity to work that out within their caucus."

Minority Leader Frederick J. Marshall, R-East Aurora, said nothing dramatic is expected.

"We're just kind of waiting to see what happens here," said Marshall.

In the late 1970s, Democratic leader Stanley H. Zagora organized with Republicans to give them a majority. Zagora represented the old 10th Ward, now included in Olma's district.

At the next election, Zagora ran again as a Democrat, and Democrats defeated him.

"A bipartisan chairmanship is a hard thing to do well," said Olma. "I'm not saying that shouldn't be considered."

At least one Democrat at the level where important agreements are reached said the party wants Olma to support Swanick and says Olma can have a deal: "Return to the fold and be part of the team or face opposition in the elections in 1998."

"How could it be any worse?" Olma replied. "I fought the whole party off, and they spent $50,000 against me. I'm saying, 'Let's move on.' "

For Zagora, the Republicans, with a county executive from their party, had a golden parachute that Democrats say will not be available to people who end up at odds with County Executive Gorski, a Democrat. Zagora became personnel commissioner -- a post that is a repository of retired Legislature chairmen.

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