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Tidings of political activity

The holidays have a way of quelling campaign fever around here, but it's hard to keep a good pol down. Here's a rundown of some quiet but important political activity:

Don't look for new Erie County Republican Chairman Jim Domagalski to be one of those behind-the-scenes party leaders. He's building a new headquarters staff by hiring Chris Grant as the county committee's senior policy adviser. He is an attorney who managed GOP mayoral candidate Kevin Helfer's campaign in 2005.

Grant Loomis, a Syracuse University graduate and former television reporter, is the new director of administration and communications. Erin McTiernan will be deputy political director and executive assistant to the chairman. She is a SUNY Albany grad who has worked for Gov. George Pataki and Assemblyman Jim Hayes.

It all means that Domagalski will be issuing more press releases like the one that blasted the County Legislature's budget vote as "the same old tax and spend policies."

"Whether I'm coming out of church or in the drugstore or talking over the back fence, people ask me what's the difference between us and the other guys," he said last week. "We're going to talk about that."

Last week's Democratic forum at the Hearthstone Manor featuring big-name candidates for county executive demonstrates that the party is serious about recapturing the Rath Building's 16th floor. And with all of them talking primary, Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer could weed the field if he taps one of the candidates -- County Clerk Dave Swarts -- for motor vehicles commissioner.

Former Congressman John LaFalce is a free agent these days after leaving previous posts at Canisius College and the Harris Beach law firm. But with close ties to both Spitzer and incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the bet here is that LaFalce may be part of government again in the near future.

Still on the congressional front, the long-time aide to Congressman Tom Reynolds -- Sally Vastola -- will be returning as his chief of staff. She will bring to Reynolds a degree of stability upset by Kirk Fordham, the Rochester native who occupied a central role in the Mark Foley page scandal that also engulfed Reynolds last fall.

Vastola has been with Reynolds since 1985 and his days in the Erie County Legislature. So has Mike Brady of South Buffalo, but he is expected to leave Capitol Hill and find government-related work in the private sector.

Brady's departure should not be seen as any kind of break with Reynolds, who was best man at Brady's November wedding.

"Brady won't be very far away," Reynolds said last week.

Republicans seem like an endangered species around Erie County these days, especially in the County Legislature, where they are outnumbered 12 to 3. One of those super-minority seats is expected to open in 2007 following Legislator Barry Weinstein's acknowledgment that he will run for Amherst Council.

Most speculation on a Republican successor centers around Ed Rath III, son of Sen. Mary Lou Rath and the late Justice Edward Rath Jr., as well as the grandson of Ed Rath Sr., the late county executive for whom the county office building is named.

Donna Luh, a Buffalo government relations consultant who worked for former Comptroller Carl McCall's gubernatorial campaign in 2002, has been named to the transition team of incoming Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith.

One of the most interesting news events of the coming week will revolve around Gov. Pataki, who is expected to visit Buffalo in a farewell lap around the state.

Quote of the Week comes from one of those attending last Tuesday's Democratic county executive forum upon spotting former congressional candidate Jack Davis not known as an enthusiast of the campaign trail -- pressing the flesh in one of his many post-election appearances.

"If only he'd done that during the election," the Dem official mused.


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