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DISSENT EXISTS OVER CHOICE OF COMMISSIONER

County residents interested in the $22,500-a-year part-time appointment as a Democratic commissioner on the Erie County Water Authority should apply by letter to Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick.

Swanick, D-Kenmore, has scheduled a session for the 10 Democratic legislators to interview candidates Monday at 10 a.m. in the Legislature conference room, 25 Delaware Ave. The winner also will get a free car, and free gasoline, to use as his or her own during the three-year term.

There is dissent in the Democratic caucus, with five of the Democrats talking about five different candidates. Labor union leaders lobbying legislators also are divided.

If Democrats do not come together, the present Democratic commissioner, Mark Patton, will hold over until they do. Patton is a candidate to succeed himself but still lacks the votes.

State law requires that the winner have support of a majority of the majority party -- in this case, six of 10 Democratic legislators.

"I will try, but I may not be able to (get a consensus)," said Swanick. "Waters run pretty deep on this one."

Swanick said he himself has not yet decided.

Patton is a friend and former business partner of Legislator Michael Fitzpatrick, D-Buffalo.

Fitzpatrick, a state leader of the Ironworkers Union, is circulating the petition for Patton, a contractor who hires union members.

Fitzpatrick said he has the signatures of Majority Leader Crystal Peoples, Buffalo, and Raymond K. Dusza, Cheektowaga, and expects three more.

"I'm confident I can get the votes," said Fitzpatrick.

Legislator Gregory Olma, D-Buffalo, heads the Energy and Environment Committee and will conduct the hearing for water commissioner candidates. Olma backs Timothy Clark of West Seneca, a long-time political figure. Clark once served as public relations spokesman for County Executive Gorski.

Albert DeBenedetti, Buffalo, is friendly with Olma and currently isolated from Swanick.

"It would be a large mistake on their part if they took me for granted," said DeBenedetti.

Legislator George Holt, Buffalo, frequently links his support on major issued to jobs or benefits for African-Americans.

Dusza, a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Board, confirmed he was ready to back Patton before Clark emerged as a candidate. Now he reminds colleagues that until two years ago, party leaders reserved the water commissionerships for themselves. He suggests G. Steven Pigeon, chairman of the County Democratic Committee.

"If Chairman Pigeon wants to resolve the hassle between Mark Patton and Tim Clark, he should accept that position himself," said Dusza. "It has created a division in labor. The building trades and Teamsters are supporting Mark Patton, and the United Electrical Workers are supporting Tim Clark."

Dusza said union leaders are lobbying legislators by telephone and mail.

Six signatures for any one candidate can move the petition to Swanick.

"Then, God help me, I'm the only one who can submit it to the Legislature for action," said Swanick.

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