Anthony L. Orsini Jr., the county's Independence Party chairman who has cross-endorsed Democrats in some major races, was selected by the Democrat-run Erie County Legislature Thursday to join the board governing off-track betting in Western New York.
Orsini, 66, a former employee of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., will replace Buffalo attorney Gregory L. Davis, who has been Erie County's representative for 15 years, the past two as its chairman. Orsini will begin serving May 1.
"I assume it's a political appointment," said the Legislature's Republican leader, Barry A. Weinstein of Amherst, who also voted to appoint Orsini. The final vote breezed through 14-1, with 11 votes cast for Orsini by lawmakers who ran with Independence Party backing in November.
"He asked. It's uncompensated. He wants to serve," said Legislature Chairwoman Lynn M. Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda. "If someone steps up and says they want to serve, I've got no problem with that."
West Seneca Democrat Cynthia Locklear was the only member to vote against the selection. She told other lawmakers earlier in the day that Orsini might have a conflict as a party chairman and also was concerned he had taken legal action against the OTB -- a disability claim.
"It has basically been resolved; I fell walking out of an OTB branch," said Orsini, an OTB community relations director from 2003-04 after working as assistant to the presiding judge of New York State Racing and Wagering Board, according to his resume.
He continues to manage his family's Orsini's Farms in Springville, and years ago he was a licensed driver and trainer of standardbred horses, he said.
Orsini's political fund-raising has been controversial at times. The Buffalo News found he once sold advertising in what candidates thought was an official Independence Party magazine when it was a private venture with former party official Thomas W. Pecoraro.
Last year, Orsini invited State Supreme Court candidates to a $500-a-person event for his personal political action committee, days before the party's judicial nominating convention. In the last couple of years, he fell into step with Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan and backed his candidates in some high-profile races: Byron W. Brown for Buffalo mayor, Marc Coppola to succeed Brown in the State Senate, and Brian Higgins to succeed Jack Quinn in Congress.
But Orsini said he also has supported Republican Sharon Townsend for State Supreme Court and numerous Republicans in town races.
Meanwhile, a major controversy that had been on the Legislature's agenda Thursday was disposed of quietly. In private discussions, lawmakers discovered they did not have the votes to override Giambra's veto of a law forcing contractors bidding on a county job to have a state-approved apprentice training program in place, and to prove they will hire a certain percentage of women and minorities.
The law initially passed 11-4, but its advocates could not hang onto the 10 votes needed to override Giambra's veto, especially under pressure from groups who feared the requirements would drive up the cost of the county's public works projects.
News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy contributed to this report.