With Byron W. Brown's victory in last month's Buffalo mayoral election, a vacancy will open for the State Senate seat he now occupies. As a practical matter, Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan will decide who fills it.
Possible appointees include mayoral candidate Kevin P. Gaughan and Buffalo Common Council Members Marc A. Coppola and Brian C. Davis. Each could be an able senator, though it's worth noting the job will be to fill out Brown's remaining one year and the holder will likely face a primary in September 2006. Also, being a Democrat in the Republican-controlled State Senate is hardly NFL quarterback status. But Buffalo's last three mayors were minority party state senators.
Gaughan has never held public office, and many people dismiss him as a gadfly. While he sounds impressive on the stump, he's aspired to elected responsibility without having held it. That said, this might therefore be the appropriate "out of sight, out of mind" job for him to see what he can do. That would be true of Coppola and Davis, as well. But they seem to lack what Gaughan has: A years-long, voluntary commitment to political reform. Gaughan would bring an extra quality to the job, one that this region and Albany desperately need.
Lenihan should take a lesson from last month's elections. With voters in Western New York showing an ornery streak -- defeating, for instance, Amherst's longtime Democratic supervisor in favor of a Republican newcomer -- Lenihan needs to show that he leads a party that is more than knee jerk. He should choose Gaughan, who lost September's mayoral primary to Brown, but showed well in key districts. He's been a leader in the government reform movement for a decade, and no bigger test exists for his ideas than New York's government. His support of regionalism fits nicely with the responsibilities of this Senate seat, which covers parts of two counties and several municipalities. Gaughan's appointment would help make the case that Lenihan can see beyond blind party loyalty.