Under siege following a string of losses in November, Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon is battling back with an impressive show of support.
Pigeon cites 130 key individuals and a dozen political clubs pledging support for his re-election as chairman.
Though Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello is not included on the list, Pigeon says he has gathered enough support to launch a strong bid for re-election as chairman when party elections are held next fall.
His list of supporters includes top statewide figures, most area state legislators, county legislators, Common Council members and several town board members. And with a long list of town and zone chairmen, Pigeon says he is in good shape to make a bid for re-election, even without a heavyweight patron like County Executive Dennis T. Gorski to back him.
"This shows a unified party," he said. "I think it will be next to impossible to go against all these people, clubs and town organizations. I'm very confident I'll be re-elected to the chairmanship."
County Clerk David J. Swarts, Hamburg attorney James M. Shaw and Assemblyman Robin L. Schimminger earlier this month launched a grass-roots "task force" to topple Pigeon in the fall. Because Pigeon has dismissed the group's call for his resignation, it appears it will have to recruit and successfully run its own slate of anti-Pigeon committee candidates during next September's primary election.
Though nobody has specifically announced his candidacy for chairman, some sources say Swarts is nearing that point.
Pigeon's main problem is Masiello's neutral stand, along with other influential figures such as Rep. John J. LaFalce, Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve and Assemblyman Sam Hoyt.
But the chairman points out that his supporters are respected members of the party who are likely to withstand intraparty challenges and who bring votes on his behalf.
"This list represents the heart and soul of the Democratic Party," he said. "These people are more than satisfied with the leadership I've provided."
He acknowledges Masiello, now the party's top figure in Erie County, has not yet signed on to his effort. But he points to a number of clubs and organizations close to the mayor that are supportive, and claims they have Masiello's tacit approval to sign on .
Sources close to the chairman say while he has lost his main source of patronage after Gorski's defeate, he wields influence in other areas such as the County Legislature, Erie County Medical Center, Erie Community College and the Board of Elections.
They say Pigeon can offer jobs or connections there, while the insurgents can offer nothing.
Other sources report Pigeon attempted to engineer another appointment for himself to ECMC's board of managers in recent days but was thwarted. His term expires Dec. 31.
Others take issue with his claims of support. Kevin J. Keane, a task force member who is president of the South Side Democratic Club, said Pigeon's claim of backing from the influential South Buffalo group is "inaccurate."
"In fact, there are several board members who have expressed the desire for change," he said.