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Primary winners and losers

It's obvious that mayoral candidate Byron Brown emerges from Tuesday's primary election as a big winner; Democratic comptroller contender Mark Poloncarz, too. But here are a few behind-the-scenes winners and losers in one of the most intriguing primaries in recent history:

Big winner: Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan, who not only triumphed with Brown and Poloncarz, but almost his entire endorsed slate, too. Lenihan withstood a major onslaught led by unsuccessful comptroller candidate Bob Whelan, who predicted a Poloncarz loss would "emasculate" Lenihan as chairman.

One less worry for Lenihan.

Big loser: County Executive Joel Giambra, even though he wasn't on the ballot. The Poloncarz blitz in the last days of the comptroller contest stretched and bent every which way to link Whelan to the public official most identified with a county government in chaos. It worked.

Winner: Kevin Helfer, who defied all conventional wisdom to show that the Conservative Party is just that -- conservative. Early results demonstrate that he won the crucial minor party slot in a write-in effort.

Winner: Downtown developer Carl Paladino, who put lots of his money into the Helfer effort when few others would. Now Republican money guys believe the cash will flow toward Helfer.

Loser: Businessman Hormoz Mansouri, who threw in with Whelan with lots of cash in what looked like a good bet. It wasn't.

Losers: Conservative leaders Ralph Lorigo and Bill Delmont. They saw a winner in Byron Brown, and they were right. They just didn't win in their party.

Winner: Charlie Flynn, who keeps demonstrating he knows how to play in local politics. Early returns point to his apparent win in the Independence mayoral primary, dealing another blow to the idea that minor party bosses automatically deliver votes for major party candidates.

Loser: Independence Chairman Tony Orsini, who if the vote count stands, will have some 'splainin' to do to irate Independence types after backing Brown.

Quasi-loser: Helfer, who sees the anti-Brown vote diffused that much more by the presence of Flynn on the ballot.

Winner (maybe): John Canavan, the Republican candidate for comptroller, who also hopes for a split Democratic vote in November because Whelan remains on the Conservative line.

Canavan's big question now is whether Democratic votes will split between Poloncarz and Whelan, to his advantage; or do Republican votes drift to Whelan on Conservative, to his disadvantage?

Loser: Former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon, who encouraged Whelan and several other legislative candidates. None won.

Winner: Legislator Lynn Marinelli, a Lenihan favorite at the center of the fiscal crisis firestorm who survived a tough challenge. Now Marinelli has to be viewed as a potential Legislature chairwoman, as well as a candidate for county executive in 2007 or Congress the day Louise Slaughter packs it in.

Semi-winner: Brown, who now faces a real race against Helfer and must now spend real money. And though his margin over Kevin Gaughan in the Democratic primary constituted an official landslide, it was not so overwhelming as to discourage Helfer.

Losers: Leaders of "taxpayer revolt" groups who correctly read citizen outrage over the county financial crisis, but who couldn't overcome institutional obstacles in their way. None of the candidates sponsored by groups like Primary Challenge succeeded.

Winner: The South Buffalo political organization led by Rep. Brian Higgins, which cemented its close relationship with Lenihan by producing wins for Brown and Poloncarz.

Losers: The voters of Erie County, who for whatever reason, were denied quick results of the vote by the Board of Elections. Former President Jimmy Carter, who often oversees Third World elections, may want to drop by Erie County this fall if paper ballots return once again.


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