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Poloncarz leads in Democratic contest 3 seek party's line for county comptroller

The books can't be closed on the Democratic primary for Erie County comptroller because of uncounted paper ballots, but Mark C. Poloncarz of Buffalo won the lion's share of machine votes Tuesday.

Paper ballots were used in about one-fifth -- 135 of 686 -- of the county's election districts. With votes tallied in 528 of the remaining 551 election districts, Poloncarz received 16,931 votes, followed by Robert E. Whelan of Amherst with 12,396 and Richard C. Pawarski of Elma with 5,234.

This much is sure: Poloncarz and Whelan both will be on the ballot in November's general elections. Poloncarz also had the Independence Party's endorsement and Whelan the Conservative Party's.

They will face John J. Canavan, the Republican nominee.

Poloncarz couldn't be reached to comment late Tuesday..

Before the polls closed Tuesday, candidates said they were monitoring municipalities -- particularly the cities of Buffalo and Lackawanna, and the towns of Amherst, Cheektowaga and Tonawanda -- where traditional voting machines had been used.

"The paper ballots really don't mean that much in this race. It's not going to be a close race," Whelan said at that time.

Hours later, however, he acknowledged those ballots "now will be an issue."

Of particular interest are results from West Seneca and Hamburg, where Whelan said he had "significant support from party leadership."

"I'm going to wait to see . . . what the final numbers are" before commenting further, he said.

And though the outcome isn't expected to be known until next week, Pawarski was counting on hometown support in Elma, "which I am very confident I'm going to carry."

Poloncarz, a political rookie who grew up in Lackawanna, received the Democratic Party endorsement and has the support of the Working Families Party.

Whelan is a longtime Democrat and veteran office holder. He served 14 years each as Buffalo comptroller and a State Supreme Court justice. But his friendship with County Executive Joel A. Giambra, a Republican, put him at odds with Democratic Party leaders.

This time around, Whelan has emphasized his independence from the county executive.

Pawarski -- an attorney, certified public accountant, former city auditor and deputy comptroller -- ran unsuccessfully for office three times since 1999.

Poloncarz is a business and finance attorney at Kavinoky Cook. He was the Western New York coordinator for the presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry.

Canavan is an Orchard Park real estate executive and a certified public accountant, with experience in high-level jobs at several companies across the nation.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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