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Democrats turn to Marinelli Caucus backs her as first chairwoman of the Erie County Legislature

Democratic members of the incoming Erie County Legislature on Monday night anointed Lynn M. Marinelli as the new chairwoman of the Legislature and named Maria R. Whyte as majority leader.

Marinelli's election Jan. 5 as the first chairwoman of the Legislature is virtually ensured because the Democrats will enjoy a 12-3 majority.

Eleven Democrats were present for the 45-minute caucus at Democratic Party headquarters, and they closed their meeting after making both their first-ballot choices unanimous.

George A. "Butch" Holt Jr. of Buffalo, the outgoing Legislature chairman, was not present.

Marinelli, of the Town of Tonawanda, the current majority leader, received eight votes on the first ballot. Kathy Konst of Lancaster, who won the seat now held by Republican Denise M. Marshall, received three votes. Konst was supported by fellow newcomers Michele M. Iannello of Kenmore and Cynthia E. Locklear of West Seneca.

Whyte, the legislator-elect from Buffalo's 6th District -- representing the West Side, Black Rock and Riverside -- received seven votes on the first ballot, beating Demone A. Smith of Buffalo and Timothy M. Kennedy of Buffalo, each of whom had two votes.

Holt and Thomas J. Mazur of Cheektowaga withdrew from the chairman's race before balloting began.

"Butch declined to run, in a very classy way, and did not seek re-election," said Leonard R. Lenihan, party chairman. "He withdrew basically in favor of a new leader being chosen."

Lenihan said Holt's leadership saved the county at the end of a very difficult year.

"Butch has taken a lot of hits this year," Lenihan said. "But in the last budget process, he acted and really led in a very superb way. He prevented the county from having a [hard] control board. He minimized the property tax increase by shepherding through the [sales tax] package. And if he hadn't been totally focused on that budget resolution, it could have been a disastrous result. We could have had a default budget and a [hard] control board. He kept everybody together and got it done."

Lenihan said he was proud of the "unity and willingness of everybody to work together" in the Democratic caucus.

"The Democratic caucus has a major responsibility, now that it's a 12-3 Legislature," Lenihan added. "It was a good, clean, organized effort; there wasn't any real bickering. So there's not going to be any drama going into the new year. We've got our leadership."

Marinelli, who represents North Buffalo and parts of the Town of Tonawanda, called winning the chairwomanship "awesome" and "humbling."

"It's a lot of work that lies ahead, but it's exciting," she said. "This is a very exciting time in Erie County, because changes are coming -- some that we'll forge, some that will be brought from the four-year plan and some that will emerge. We worked hard to see the charter review, and that will also present itself with opportunities."

Marinelli added that the Democrats' unity is all the more remarkable because of the election of nine new legislators, requiring the 12 incoming legislators to spend time getting to know one another.

Whyte, 29, who became the Legislature's third woman majority leader, said: "I feel like I've built a reputation on hard work and intend to give this everything I've got. I have high expectations and high hopes for the county."

News Staff Reporter Matthew Spina contributed to this report.

e-mail: acardinale@buffnews.com

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