Mark Poloncarz is not new to politics. Erie County's executive-in-waiting knows the power of appearances. He understands that clear messages can be sent without a word being spoken.
So, is it a surprise or not that his administration was conducting job interviews in the Buffalo headquarters of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union? It is if you took seriously the pledge by Poloncarz not to cater to the unions, as Democrats have been known to do in these parts.
Yes, we know: Simply conducting job interviews at union headquarters isn't the same as digging further into taxpayers' pockets to fund pensions and benefits they can't afford. But it's not standard operating procedure, either, and that only raises suspicions when Timothy C. Callan, the executive director of Poloncarz's transition team, preposterously claims that "It's simply the meeting space that's available." Taxpayers may have been battered in this area, but they aren't stupid. This was an unfortunate preamble.
No one expects Poloncarz to be actively hostile to the unions or to anyone else, for that matter. The point is for him to place taxpayers' interests above all others and then to make wise decisions. He can still do that, of course, but with this purposeful provocation, he has aroused his adversaries and given his supporters reason to doubt his campaign promises.
Here's what he told our editorial board during his campaign against incumbent County Executive Chris Collins: "I have been willing to stand up against unions. I have told them when I think they're wrong. If they think I am going to give the keys to the candy store to labor just because I have their support, they're wrong."
He hasn't done that. Fair enough. And another member of Poloncarz's transition team, James J. Eagan, speaking as a member of the NFTA Board of Commissioners, has called for the Amalgamated Transit Union to pay 20 percent of its health insurance premiums in the face of the authority's budget deficit. Hardly something to endear him to labor.
Still, the only possible point in holding job interviews at SEIU's headquarters is to send a message to union supporters. So either he has their back or he's toying with them. Neither option gets him off on the right foot as he prepares to take Erie County in a different direction. Here's hoping he recovers from this stumble and remembers that it is the backs of taxpayers he was elected to protect.