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A THIN VICTORY FOR GIAMBRA

Although he wasn't even running, Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra emerged victorious from Tuesday's primaries. But his triumph is both temporary and razor-thin, and voters missed a chance to deliver a much stronger endorsement of change and regionalism.

In a light turnout, county residents handed County Legislature primary defeats to a veteran Democrat who often voted with Republicans -- Buffalo's Gregory B. Olma -- and a veteran Republican who generally voted with the Democrats -- Amherst's William A. Pauly. What looks like an even trade becomes nominally a Giambra edge, thanks to the court-imposed weighted voting plan that will last until new census-based district lines are drawn.

Because the Pauly district has slightly more power in the weighted-voting arrangement, the overwhelming GOP primary victory by Elise Swiantek Cusack could give supporters of the Republican county executive 8.51 of the Legislature's 17 votes. The .02-vote edge isn't a mandate in anyone's book -- and it could quickly change again in November, as voters turn out for the general election that will complete the process.

The most immediate and tangible result could be chaos. The deadline for redistricting is March. Democrats have considered appealing the court ruling that imposed that plan. County Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick also could try to pass a redistricting plan with his current majority before the new Legislature takes office Jan. 1, although he doesn't command the votes to override a Giambra veto.

And the end of weighted voting after the mid-March redistricting deadline also could leave the Legislature ideologically, if not politically, deadlocked, with one major exception -- a GOP margin could install Republican Legislator John Greenan as Legislature chairman, a post he would hold for the full year.

If anything, Tuesday's results heat up the general election campaign. Pauly vows to run hard on minor-party lines, while Democrats are likely to pour money and manpower into two other key contests -- protecting the district seat now held by Judith P. Fisher, likely to face a Giambra-backed challenge from Lucy Tretiak-Caruso, and wresting a Southtowns district from first-term Legislator Steven P. McCarville, who faces a strong challenge from David Shenk. And Swanick himself, an Army reservist who faces a possible military call-up, also is heading toward a serious campaign contest with challenger Kevin R. Hardwick.

The confusion over nuances of power, though, doesn't mask the fact that county residents missed their first chance this electoral season to provide a strong vote of confidence for the program of change they elected Giambra to provide just two years ago.

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