After two weeks of low-key political activity in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the Erie County political scene needed the election last week to get back on track. So with the return of politics, here are a few thoughts, observations and ruminations on the local political scene on the weekend after Primary Day:
It's inevitable that when one election ends, preparations begin for the next one. That's exactly Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon's plan this week as he gears up for the big statewide election of 2002.
Sources inside Democratic Headquarters say that with Mayor Tony Masiello safely re-elected to a third term, Pigeon will begin laying the party groundwork for the mayor to run with gubernatorial hopeful Carl McCall next year as McCall's lieutenant governor candidate. Pigeon is expected to eventually support the current comptroller for governor, and is determined to get a Western New Yorker on the ticket one way or another.
The chairman is not speaking publicly about the idea, but those familiar with his strategy say he will argue that Masiello will prove a huge draw in a swing county that often serves as the statewide bellwether. As a former state senator he knows Albany, has run a big city and his Italian-Catholic heritage would poise him as the perfect complement to McCall, who is African-American and Protestant.
But there are problems to the scenario. Pigeon's close ally, Buffalo Comptroller Anthony Nanula, is already campaigning for state comptroller, using many of the "ticket balance" arguments that could work for Masiello. Nevertheless, the Pigeon sources correctly point out that Nanula must win that nomination on his own via the primary route, while McCall will select his running mate should he beat former Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo for the nomination.
In addition, it would be difficult for Masiello to run against Pataki, with whom he has become increasingly friendly ever since he endorsed the Republican governor for re-election in 1998. The pair practically smothers each other with praise during their frequent joint appearances, and those film clips would surely find their way into GOP ad campaigns. It's even a distinct possibility that Masiello will endorse Pataki again in 2002, or at least stay neutral.
Finally, and most important, Masiello is uninterested. Albany occupies the "been there; done that" category. He has two little girls at home. He has big plans for Buffalo. And he has no desire for a "No. 2" post.
"I'm very, very flattered," Masiello said of Pigeon's plans. "But I will tell him that I have serious reservations about that. Personally and professionally, it's not where I'm at."
Still, give the chairman credit for trying. He remains obsessed with promoting locals as statewide candidates, and there's nothing wrong with that. And it's also quite evident that he'll go to great lengths to repair a frayed relationship with Masiello that almost snapped last summer when the mayor and others seriously discussed dumping Pigeon from his party perch. For various reasons that did not happen, and Pigeon is working to ensure that it doesn't happen.
For all the ink this column gave the concept of "Giambracrats" earlier this year, politicos of that ilk didn't score much success on Tuesday. Giambracrats, you may recall, are members of County Executive Joel Giambra's former Democratic Party who remain his allies even after his switch to the GOP.
But Democrats running as Giambra supporters, such as Elissa Morganti Banas in the 1st District and Gerhardt Yaskow and Joe "No Relation" Giambra in the 4th District, never pulled the Democratic votes that Giambra forces envisioned.
Now, Democratic Legislator Al DeBenedetti remains the lone Giambracrat still standing, but standing tall as he prepares for the potential of even more influence in the 2002 County Legislature.
Pssssst. Wanna be a judge? Here's the secret: run as a Republican.
Though all the votes are not yet counted, it appears that Republicans Sharon Townsend and Patricia Maxwell won Democratic primaries for Family Court on Tuesday. That continues the remarkable string of judicial successes racked up by Erie County Republican Chairman Bob Davis and crew over the past several years.
There are many friends of County Legislature candidate Elise Swiantek Cusack who participated in her GOP primary victory Tuesday. Certainly Davis, Giambra, Rep. Tom Reynolds and GOP strategist Barry Zeplowitz played roles.
But insiders say Martin Cusack, the candidate's husband, may have played the biggest support role of all in using his own political background to help devise an overwhelming victory over incumbent Bill Pauly.