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County Democrats giving unity a try

When the Nobel Peace Prize is presented in Oslo next December, don't look for its bestowal on the usual diplomats or world leaders.

It may very well be draped over a Manhattan attorney named Charlie King, executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee.

King has proven a significant figure on the state Democratic scene for years, running unsuccessfully for attorney general and lieutenant governor. And while he has emerged as a key confidante of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on all things political, it is the calming of Erie County's turbulent Democratic waters that may rank him among the Mother Teresas of the world.

At least on this Sunday, peace reigns over Erie County's Democratic valley.

King has been conducting shuttle diplomacy around Buffalo for weeks, reflecting Cuomo's desire to end the divisions that turned the local Democratic scene into a war zone.

"He is keenly interested in having the Democrats pulling in the same direction as much as possible," said one Dem close to the scene, adding that the election of Democrat Mark Poloncarz over incumbent Republican Chris Collins in this year's big contest for county executive ranks as a "priority."

So King tiptoed among the Erie County minefields for weeks, consulting all of the "factions." That required peace talks with Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan, Mayor Byron Brown, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, Congressman Brian Higgins and -- yes -- former Democratic chairman Steve Pigeon.

A few days ago, the logjam broke when Lenihan -- chairman since 2002 -- opted to fade into the sunset. For sure, he was forced out. His departure was key to Brown's cooperation, so deep was the division between them.

But Lenihan also leaves on his own terms. He will take a job with the state party, and the bet here is that something else awaits him past Election Day. In office almost nine years, he survived longer than most chairmen before him. And the resulting unity provides a major boost to Poloncarz, a Lenihan protege.

Make that semi-unity. Brown said last week that while he will not help the Lenihan ally, he will not stand in Poloncarz's way. The mayor is still smarting over the county comptroller's pronouncement that the city's population loss would spur a $3 million reduction in sales tax revenue.

"He said later it was no big deal," Brown said. "I disagree. To me, $3 million out of the city's coffers is important."

Though he has proven chummy with Collins, Brown reiterated he will not support the Republican, either.

Some observers predict the mayor will change his position if Poloncarz makes a race of it -- especially since Cuomo wishes Collins to also fade into the sunset and is expected to help Poloncarz make that happen.

Now Tonawanda's John Crangle (Lenihan's choice) moves into the chair occupied by his uncle -- Joe Crangle -- for 23 years. Though some, like Cheektowaga Democratic Chairman Frank Max, are contemplating a challenge, it's expected the Crangle name will again appear on the door of Democratic Headquarters.

Maybe the California pastor who predicted the apocalypse is right. Maybe the end of the world is near when Lenihan sits down to talk peace with arch-enemy Pigeon in a meeting brokered by financier Hormoz Mansouri. And a generation ago, when Mario Cuomo declared Joe Crangle a "non-person," the Cuomo-Crangle alliance now forming could never be envisioned.

What's next for King? Israelis and Palestinians? Hatfields and McCoys?

Those assignments may prove easier than what he has -- for now -- pulled off in Erie County.


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