Erie County Democrats are assembling a panel of experts to search for a candidate to challenge incumbent Republican Timothy B. Howard for sheriff in November.
Kenneth F. Case, a former prosecutor and unsuccessful candidate for district attorney last year, will head the panel, according to Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan.
"Ken Case has been a prosecutor and understands the role of the police," Lenihan said. "He'll head a panel that is not yet complete, but will include people in law enforcement and other aspects of the community with interest in criminal justice."
Case and Lenihan said they have heard from several potential candidates, though most are committed to existing positions in law enforcement and are not yet ready to announce official campaigns. One potential name that other sources have mentioned, however, is Anthony J. Barba, chief of the Buffalo Police Department's B District.
While Case lost the Democratic endorsement for district attorney last year to eventual winner Frank A. Sedita III, he has maintained friendly relations with party headquarters. As a result, Lenihan asked him to head a panel that in a similar fashion recruited Charles T. Fieramusca Jr., Buffalo's retired chief of homicide, in 2005. He lost that contest to Howard.
"We've had some interest from a handful of potential candidates," Case said. "We want to explore every possible option to find the best possible candidate."
Case said his panel will be complete and begin interviewing potential candidates in "the not too distant future."
Howard, meanwhile, has not made any official announcements but is expected to run for a second term. "Right now, I'm just focused on running the Sheriff's Department," he said.
Nevertheless, Republican sources say Howard has scheduled major fundraising events for March 10 at the Ironworkers Hall in West Seneca and April 23 at Pettibone's Grille in downtown Buffalo, as well as a summer golf tournament.
Howard will rely heavily on those events, since his January report to the state Board of Elections indicated only about $15,000 in his campaign account. Most political observers believe any serious candidate would require at least 10 times that amount to compete in Erie County.
Experts also point out that many law enforcement officials may turn down the job since they already make more than the sheriff's salary of $79,000, which has been frozen since 1989.