County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz said Monday he will not run for county executive this year, deleting from the race the "fresh face" so eagerly sought by Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan.
Now, Lenihan is facing new intensity on an endorsement decision expected by early next week. With speculation increasing that the chairman will name former Deputy County Executive James P. Keane as his candidate, furious efforts are under way to derail any such move.
Indeed, multiple sources report that West Seneca Supervisor Paul T. Clark will meet with Lenihan today to make a last-ditch effort to stave off any Keane endorsement. It is expected Clark will make the case that a bitter primary struggle will ensue and that he has amassed enough money and organizational support to win the primary and general elections.
While several sources close to him say Lenihan has decided to support Keane, the chairman insists that is not true.
"Frankly, no decision has been made on that," Lenihan said Monday.
"Have things intensified? Of course."
Meanwhile, Poloncarz's decision not to run ranked as a major development in a race already marked by many candidates and several twists and turns. He said Monday he decided not to run because he felt an obligation to the comptroller's position he started less than 16 months ago.
"I just don't believe the time is right for me to do this now," he said. "But I seriously considered it."
Indeed, Poloncarz had emerged as a top choice of many Democrats who felt leading contenders like Keane and Clark brought too much "baggage" to the race this year. Poloncarz, 39, was thought to lack a long record that would serve as fodder for endless broadcast commercials about past actions, according to many Democratic insiders.
But his late start prompted fears about raising the necessary money for both primary and general elections, and efforts to "clear the field" for a Poloncarz candidacy never proved successful.
"While I am not running for county executive, the strong support offered to me shows that I am doing the right things in this office in looking out for the best interests of the taxpayers," he said Monday.
Now Democrats are awaiting Lenihan's decision to convene a party Executive Committee meeting, possibly for next Monday. That's when he is expected to announce his choice for the party endorsement, which will provide an enormous advantage in organization and fundraising for the anointed candidate. But Lenihan's decision won't derail a primary fight.
Also watching the situation are two other candidates, Amherst Council Member Daniel J. Ward and County Legislature Chairwoman Lynn M. Marinelli, who most believe would be surprise choices for Lenihan's endorsement. Former Mayor James D. Griffin said last week he would not run.
Businessmen Christopher C. Collins and Amherst Council Member William A. O'Loughlin are Republican candidates. The Independence Party tapped Clark.