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Six challengers seek to oust Legislature Chairman Holt

The chairman of the Erie County Legislature finds himself fending off no less than six challengers this primary election, following a year that saw him negotiating through a financial crisis and under investigation by the FBI.

But George A. Holt Jr. remains optimistic that he will retain his legislative seat despite efforts to unseat him by Donald O. Allen, Ronald H. Fleming, John E. Hemphill, Barbara Miller-Williams, James E. Payne and Kenneth A. Pryor Sr.

Holt, a legislator since 1993 and chairman since 2004, presided over the Legislature in a year of governmental chaos and overwhelming financial problems. But he does not apologize for adopting stands that he said steadfastly represent the needs of his minority constituency.

Holt said he used his influence to keep open county-run health care centers that might have closed due to the county's fiscal problems. Cost-cutters and suburban legislators often do not take into account the needs of his district in making such decisions, he insisted.

"Who does that impact?" he asked. "It impacts the poor."

Holt was under FBI investigation earlier this year for sponsoring a no-bid contract during the late-night confusion of the Dec. 8 budget adoption. He was especially criticized by former County Comptroller Nancy A. Naples, who revealed Holt's action during court proceedings over the budget.

It was also later revealed that Holt had accepted (and later returned) contributions from officials of a New Orleans company specializing in alternatives to incarceration that was named in the budget resolution. But no action resulted from the federal probe, and government sources indicate they expect no criminal indictments.

Miller-Williams, a city police officer, has been a vice chairwoman and member of the Erie County Democratic Committee. The former Ellicott Council member served on the Finance and Legislation committees and headed the Civil Service Committee.

Miller-Williams said she prefers raising the sales tax because many constituents in the district, especially the elderly, would be in jeopardy of losing their homes under property tax increases.

"A sales tax increase would not put their properties at risk of being lost," she said.

Her platform includes "reforming and stabilizing" government and expenditures and improving and enhancing deliveries of essential services in Erie County.

Allen, Buffalo's community services commissioner, was motivated to run for the 3rd District seat because he was dissatisfied with the current administration, especially Holt, for not "carrying the interests of this community with him into meetings."

Allen said his wide range of experience in public housing, economic development, minority participation and human services gives him the edge over his opponents.

"I balance budgets, and I save jobs. I think with some new people, some new faces and some new blood, we can turn Erie County around," Allen said.

Fleming, a weekly newspaper publisher, is vying for the seat for the fourth time. He turned into an activist after serving for several years as the president of the board of Block Clubs of Buffalo and Erie County until 1993.

"We felt like we were paying our share of taxes but not getting our fair share of services, and that continues today," Fleming said. "The county squandered (millions of dollars) of surplus, but if you look on the East Side, you don't see where any of that money has been spent."

Backed by the Primary Challenge political group, Pryor learned as a child about commitment to the community and public service.

"My dad ran for county legislator a number of times, and he even ran for a stint as mayor," said Pryor, a first-time candidate.

Pryor said legislators need to develop an action plan on how to rid the community of dilapidated buildings and strip malls, while supporting minority-owned businesses.

"Sales taxes are fair across the board, and they raise revenue," Pryor said.

Hemphill, a frequent candidate for office, is a 1982 Canisius College graduate of political science and criminal justice. He has run for Erie County sheriff, State Senate, Buffalo mayor and the County Legislature.

"I won't let that political science education go to waste," he said.

Payne could not be reached to comment on his candidacy.

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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