The first step in what could prove to be one of the most contested Assembly races in New York State begins Thursday when Amherst Republicans endorse one of two men seeking to succeed retiring Assemblyman Richard R. Anderson.
Regardless of the outcome, it appears a Republican primary is in the making between Amherst Councilman James P. Hayes and County Legislator William A. Pauly. In fact, Pauly already claims the county GOP organization is railroading Hayes through Thursday's endorsement session in an effort to deny Pauly party backing.
"It's a mistake because there hasn't been enough time," Pauly said. "In reality, it's a slap in the face to every Republican voter who looks to the party for a recommendation."
With Hayes emerging as the favorite for the endorsement, Pauly kicks off an intraparty squabble that reflects some deep divisions among Amherst Republicans. The same factions who battled each other in last fall's contests for the Town Board also appear to be active in this effort.
In addition, Pauly's recent estrangement from party leaders over his support of some Democratic moves in the County Legislature also enters the picture.
Now Pauly says Erie County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis' decision to convene an endorsement session just three weeks after Anderson's retirement announcement has not afforded him the time to address issues with approximately 230 committee members.
"It smashes the Amherst tradition of providing plenty of time to get out mailings and make personal visits," he said. "All that is being taken away."
In addition, Pauly said minor party lines probably will not be determined until late May.
"This tells me there's interference from county headquarters, and that's a disappointment," Pauly said, adding that issues such as his vote for a Democrat for Legislature chairman amount to "red herrings."
Davis, however, says he has every right to be involved since the party bylaws require him to convene the meeting. He also pointed out that Pauly has represented Amherst for 22 years in the Legislature, so there should be no problem with committee members being unfamiliar with his positions.
And he says Pauly has no right to complain since he has not even announced his candidacy or formally contacted him about an endorsement.
Davis is also adamant about getting an early start against Democrat Susan Y. Peimer.
"For us to wait until May would give Susan Peimer a head start in fund-raising and organization," Davis said. "That's an advantage I'm not about to give any Democrat."
Davis said his information points to the district ranking as one of the top objectives of Assembly Democrats. It could attract $100,000 from Albany Democrats alone, he said, adding to his concern about getting an early start.
Hayes, meanwhile, said he is "confident but not complacent" about receiving the endorsement. A former Williamsville trustee and two-term veteran of the Amherst Town Board, Hayes also serves as director of development for Catholic Charities. He claims backing from many traditional Pauly supporters.
"The committeemen see me as the strongest candidate because of the back-to-back, townwide wins in '93 and '97, and because I successfully defended the party endorsement in the primary last year," Hayes said.
Amherst businessman Jeff Vukelic is also expected to address Thursday's meeting. He had also expressed interest in the endorsement, but sources say he will not pursue it in light of the developing Pauly-Hayes primary.