You might call this week's release of new legislative district lines the New York State political world's long-awaited starting signal.
Now, with a basic idea of how districts for the State Senate and Assembly will take shape -- even if a threatened gubernatorial veto and potential legal action may change the situation -- candidates and political parties began staking their claim Friday.
"This is still early and it remains to be seen what the governor is going to do," said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy. "But this certainly gives us a window into what the Senate majority and Assembly minority are trying to do."
And with a Friday judicial ruling setting the New York primary on June 26 this year as opposed to the traditional September date, the state political establishment is now looking at granting endorsements as early as February.
"We traditionally start [designating] petitions three months before a primary," said Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan. "Now we're talking about as early as February and February is less than a week away. Everything moves up dramatically."
Some hints about the course of several legislative races now emerging include:
Former Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, a Lewiston Democrat, said she may consider a comeback for her old seat, which is now occupied by Republican John D. Ceretto of Lewiston.
"I'm certainly watching the situation," she said.
DelMonte lost her longtime position in the Assembly in 2010 in a Democratic primary against former Councilman John G. Accardo of Niagara Falls. He then lost in the general election to Ceretto.
But the new lines released Thursday by a legislative task force concentrate the district much more in heavily Democratic Niagara Falls, giving the district a more Democratic flavor.
Another name surfacing in some Democratic circles is former Niagara Falls City Judge Robert M. Restaino, now serving on the city school board.
Former East Aurora Mayor David J. DiPietro said he is "definitely interested" in mounting a Republican primary challenge to Assemblyman Daniel J. Burling of Warsaw. DiPietro, an unsuccessful candidate in the GOP State Senate primary won by Patrick Gallivan in 2010, said the new lines call for an Erie County candidate.
The vast majority of the district as proposed by the legislative task force now lies in Erie County, significantly enhancing the prospects of an Erie County candidate. And DiPietro pointed out that Aurora is the largest town in the new district.
"I'd like to run with the party support," he said. "You need party support here."
DiPietro unsuccessfully ran against Gallivan and the endorsed candidate -- former Erie County Republican Chairman James P. Domagalski -- in 2010.
In the current 145th District formerly represented by Democrat Mark J.F. Schroeder and now vacant following his November election as Buffalo comptroller, most observers say the March 20 special election may only serve as a warm-up to a later Democratic primary.
That's because the district was surprisingly preserved as a Democratic stronghold, even though vacant. Now the possibility looms that a close contest on March 20 between Democrat Christopher J. Fahey, who is an aide to Rep. Brian Higgins, and South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, a Democrat running on the GOP line, may only produce a rematch in the June primary.
Kevin Smardz, meanwhile, continues to loom as the incumbent most adversely affected by the new lines. Even GOP supporters were conceding Friday that the Republican faces a tough contest against Democratic incumbent Sean M. Ryan, whose Buffalo district now snakes down along the Lake Erie shore into Hamburg.
Smardz's last financial report to the state Board of Elections indicated only about $5,800 on hand and uncertain prospects in the new and overwhelmingly Democratic district.
Though the district of Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, now includes new turf in Democratic enclaves like the East Side and Cheektowaga, sources in both areas said Friday they see no potential primary challengers at this point.