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Factions fracture local Democrats

Former Comptroller Carl McCall used to joke about it all the time when he was titular head of the state Democratic Party and candidate for governor in 2002.

"I have to make five different stops every time I come to Erie County so one or another warring faction doesn't get offended," he would say.

Things aren't quite that bad in 2007, but McCall would definitely have to make the rounds these days if he were still visiting.

You've got your Jim Keane faction and your Paul Clark faction in the county executive race. Then you've got your group loyal to Chairman Len Lenihan, and your contingent pledged to Mayor Byron Brown, not to mention all the geographic and ethnic bands that roam the region's political landscape.

New groups keep emerging too, like the one nominally headed by Assemblyman Sam Hoyt. While Hoyt has slowly built a city-based force within the party for years, it slinked around out of sight without causing much of a fuss.

That all changed last week when the Hoyt group and City Hall clashed over two Common Council seats. And for Hoyt, the ire is aimed at the mayor's political point man -- Deputy Mayor Steve Casey.

"At a time of skyrocketing crime and an FBI investigation of City Hall, my message to the mayor's office is that we ought to concentrate on good government," Hoyt fumed. "I don't think the people of Buffalo elected this mayor to have his deputy mayor run a political operation at taxpayers' expense."

The assemblyman and the mayor were never close, but the new and wider rift between them marks yet another crack in the Democratic veneer of "unity." It all began when Niagara Council Member Dominic Bonifacio opted against re-election, and both sides rushed to fill the ensuing vacuum.

Assistant Corporation Counsel Peter Savage III entered with the mayor's blessing. Then Hoyt countered with David Rivera, a Buffalo police officer, while former mayoral candidate Judy Einach joined the race independently.

A fight in Niagara not enough for you? Let's do Delaware too.

Another Brown insider, Jessica Maglietto, will challenge incumbent Michael LoCurto, who once worked for Hoyt.

And while we're at it, let's get the County Legislature involved. Former Legislator Al DeBenedetti is poised to challenge Maria Whyte, who is also close to Hoyt. DeBenedetti said the mayor would like him to run against Whyte, but Brown says he has no interest whatsoever in removing the Legislature's majority leader.

In fact, he says Savage and Maglietto both approached him about running for Council this year.

"I did not feel it would be appropriate to stand in their way," Brown said.

Indeed, he says part of any executive's job is to seek a cooperative and friendly legislative branch.

"It's good for the Council to be independent," the mayor said, "but it's also good for the executive and legislative branches to work together in the best interests of the community."

What's interesting about all this is that while Brown's political operation maintains a tenuous relationship with Democratic Headquarters, it isn't afraid to flex its muscles against other party factions too.

And the flip side is that Hoyt's group feels it is strong enough to take on the state's leading Democratic mayor.

The result is lots of political brush fires breaking out all over Erie County this primary season.

So if McCall finds his way to Buffalo any time soon, he'll avoid the denizens of all those Democratic lairs. He'll probably take in a show at Shea's or venture over to Kleinhan's and the Philharmonic.

Anything but those Democrats in Buffalo.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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