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NEW CHIEF OF STAFF IN THE WORKS

Talking turkey about local political doings:

Mayor Tony Masiello is preparing to soon choose from among several trusted advisers one to serve as his chief of staff. The appointment is viewed as critical, because the mayor is committed to implementing a number of large-scale initiatives during his third term that will require top-notch executive direction.

Nothing is certain on whom the mayor will choose. But names surfacing include Eva Hassett, an inner-circle member who is commissioner of administration and finance. Other City Hall insiders mentioned are Peter Cammaratta and Peter Savage, who also have Masiello's confidence.

The most interesting name in the mix, however, is Peter Cutler -- the mayor's former communications director who left City Hall for a local public relations agency in October of 2001. Several sources report that Masiello and Cutler have informally discussed a return to the mayor's suite on the second floor of City Hall. Nothing definite; just two friends talking.

Cutler remains deeply committed to the mayor's agenda and is among a handful of associates with whom Masiello regularly consults.

All of this points to the recognition that a third term as mayor must be a productive term. Masiello can no longer blame former Mayor Jim Griffin for his troubles, nor can he can point to the city and state's severe financial difficulties as an excuse for failing to advance several key projects.

That's why he wants someone he can trust to help direct efforts that will either leave a legacy for his time as mayor or provide the foundation for a fourth term. And nobody has ruled out that possibility.

Congressman Tom Reynolds' ascent up the House Republican ladder is resulting in new responsibilities for two of his closest confidantes. As reported by News Washington Bureau Chief Doug Turner, Sally Vastola will leave Reynolds' congressional staff to serve as executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee -- which Reynolds now heads.

Meanwhile, Mike "The Pride of South Buffalo" Brady takes over as Reynolds' Washington chief of staff. Both are extremely close aides with a combined tenure of 36 years with Reynolds, dating to his days in the County Legislature.

Speaking of Reynolds, he was "talking turkey" last week in more ways than one. The congressman has just returned from Turkey after visiting U.S. air bases and attending Ankara meetings of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the legislative association of NATO members. He accompanied House Speaker Dennis Hastert on the trip.

Buffalo Comptroller Anthony Nanula is staying mum on widespread but well-founded speculation that he will soon leave City Hall to join new state Comptroller Alan Hevesi. In the meantime, the line of those aspiring to succeed him grows.

City Treasurer Mike Seaman is in the mix for the Council appointment, according to knowledgeable sources, as is Andy SanFilippo, a Nanula staffer who is the city's investment and debt management officer. In addition to those already expressing interest, Fillmore Council Member David Franczyk is mentioned.

Appellate Justice Gene Pigott has interviewed with the judicial screening committee that will present four to seven names for Gov. Pataki to consider for an appointment to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest. Pigott has experienced a meteoric rise on the bench, and many sources say that even if he doesn't make the cut this time, nobody will forget his name for a future appointment.

Pigott will also play a key role in naming the successor to Justice Vinnie Doyle as administrative judge of the Eighth Judicial District.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan is spending lots of time in his new digs in Ellicott Square, where he is realigning the party's Executive Committee and its zone system, too. The zone reorganization plan, which will change the boundaries of long-established party fiefdoms within the city, will most likely raise the blood pressure of some veteran party warlords.

"They'll get over it," seems to be the chairman's attitude.

Lenihan will also appoint 26 people to the Executive Committee in addition to the party's nine officers and 54 elected members.

Quote of the Week comes from Sen. Chuck Schumer, praising Lenihan on Monday during an appearance at Democratic Headquarters:

"I want to thank Len Lenihan for bringing peace and harmony and comity to the Buffalo democracy. Len has done a fabulous job. He became the consensus choice, and I think no one since he's become chairman has regretted that choice."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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