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Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra got a big boost from the county attorney Wednesday in his effort to gain control of the Democratic-led County Legislature.

County Attorney Frederick A. Wolf said he has determined that Giambra, a Republican, has veto power over the Legislature's forthcoming reapportionment of legislative districts. The issue previously had been unclear.

Wolf, a Giambra appointee, said reapportionment is considered a local law and is, therefore, subject to the customary process of a Legislature vote and a public hearing. The local law process always includes the option of an executive veto, he said.

"Joel can veto," he said. "It's been done at the state level. There is at least one state case where there was a veto. Unfortunately, these are the kinds of cases that end up in court."

Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore, said he is not satisfied that Giambra has veto power -- and won't be, until the Legislature's own legal review is done.

Swanick said a veto would be a bad precedent, because no Erie County executive has ever vetoed a Legislature reapportionment.

"I certainly hope this is not the direction we're going to go in," said Swanick, who plans to begin the reapportionment process later this month. "I would prefer that this (veto) never even become an issue. The Legislature is clearly, under county law and particularly under state law, the body that will determine reapportionment."

Reapportionment -- the redivision of Legislature districts among the sitting 17 legislators -- is shaping up as one of the county's hottest political battles of the year.

One person who stands to gain from Wolf's legal decision, Legislator Gregory B. Olma, D-Buffalo, called the decision a
victory for the Giambra administration -- and for friends of the administration, such as himself.

"This (veto) is a hammer of enormous potential in county government right now," Olma said. "This means that Joel is not going to let reapportionment occur if it doesn't protect people he has a relationship with."

Olma, who is not well-liked by many other Democrats in the Legislature, maintains that the Democratic caucus will try to use reapportionment to get rid of him.

Swanick said he will begin the reapportionment process by announcing the formation of a 15-member advisory committee to study the issue and develop a proposal to present to the Legislature. He said a vote on the issue would come in May.

The reapportioning of legislative districts will hinge primarily on new population numbers from the U.S. Census, which are expected to be released in March.

Already, some influential politicians -- such as County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis -- are suggesting that the Legislature should be slimmed down by a seat or two. Some top Democrats said they are not necessarily opposed to such an idea.

The Legislature's committee, which will include elected officials and citizens, has 60 days from its inception, or from the release of Census data, to come up with a proposal, Wolf said.

The Legislature was last reapportioned in 1991. The size of the Legislature was last changed in 1981, after the release of 1980 Census figures, when the number of legislators was cut from 20 to 17.

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