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Filling a key county job Gaughan, Hochul are candidates for post vacated by veteran Swarts

With most of the budget crunch now behind him, Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer now has a chance to attend to some of the state's unfinished business. This week, his administration interviewed two contenders for the post of Erie County clerk, vacated by David L. Swarts when the 20-year county clerk was appointed commissioner of motor vehicles.

That choice has gotten tougher. Interim county clerk Kathleen C. Hochul has not only managed a seamless leadership transition, she has instituted some improvements of her own. Last week's opening of a new mobile motor vehicles bureau office in Lackawanna is an example. The first three months of the year gave her a chance to prove beyond doubt that she can do the job well, and she seized it.

But attorney and community activist Kevin P. Gaughan also is pushing hard for the job, which will be up again on the ballot this November. Gaughan hasn't held public office, and this appointment would give residents a chance to measure his ability to organize, manage and implement the kinds of governmental efficiencies and regionalism initiatives he has promoted for years.

Gaughan's vision of streamlining government is a good match for Erie County's needs, if he can use the post not only to effect change in that important revenue-producing county division but to effectively preach change in the county as a whole. Hochul now matches that vision with concrete plans to establish discussions on collaborative efforts for city, town and village clerks, consolidate record storage and archiving to lift burdens from smaller governments and save money by moving agency operations from rented to county-owned space, among other initiatives.

Spitzer must balance those visions, and consider management skills. Hochul has worked to make this a tougher choice, but either way county residents can hope for worthwhile changes.

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