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Women will fill two key positions

Two key figures in the 2007 Cattaraugus County Legislature lineup are women.

During the Jan. 3 reorganizational meeting, the 11-member Republican majority caucus plans to nominate Crystal J. Abers, R-South Dayton, to retain the chairwoman's seat. Abers, who is a former Republican vice chairwoman, is the county's first female chairwoman, a job she assumed last April upon the death of longtime Chairman Gerard "Jess" Fitzpatrick.

The Republicans plan to nominate Michael O'Brien, R-Portville, to remain vice chairman.
And during a caucus last week, they voted to keep the party's 2007 leadership lineup the same.

But the Democratic caucus was not so predictable, with the eight-member group emerging from behind closed doors last week with a unanimous agreement to replace Minority Leader Dick L. Giardini Jr., D-Allegany, with Linda Witte, D-Olean.

Giardini has served as minority leader for two years. Witte, a veteran legislator and former Olean alderwoman who lost her bid in November for the 149th District Assembly seat, said she believes having women as county leaders will encourage other women.

The Democrats also selected Kenneth "Bucky" McClune, D-Salamanca, to assume Witte's current position as minority whip but kept Assistant Minority Leader William E. Sprague, D-Yorkshire, on for another year.

"I wanted to participate more. I have enjoyed going to leadership [meetings] and going to conferences. Finding out how Albany works made me more energized," said Witte, referring to her campaign and pointing to the upcoming year's possibilities for change as term limits and November elections loom.

She said in her new position she will look for opportunities for grants and a stronger voice at the state level.

Maintaining the status quo, Republicans will be led for another year by Majority Leader Jon Baker, R-Olean; Assistant Majority Leader Thomas Moser, R-Portville; and Majority Whip Elliott Ellis Jr., R-Cattaraugus.

The two-member Conservative minority caucus will be led by Howard D. Zollinger, C-Randolph. That party doubled in size recently when Charles G. Krause of Great Valley changed his Republican Party affiliation and joined Zollinger.

Zollinger, who as the lone Conservative was able to caucus with the Democrats, must now hold closed caucuses with Krause to prevent the Democratic sessions from becoming open to the public. Krause will become the assistant minority leader of the Conservative Party.

Baker remarked that he is confident that cooperation across party lines will continue.

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