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Council interviews to fill South seat; 3 front-runners emerge

Three candidates emerged Monday as the front-runners for appointment to the South District seat on the Buffalo Common Council.

Matthew Fisher, who worked for the lawmaker who left and created the vacancy, appears to have the most support among the trio of leading applicants, according to a survey of Council members by The Buffalo News.

Fisher also picked up the support of the Democratic committeemen in the South District on Saturday.

Bryan J. Bollman and Anthony "A.J." Verel are the other favorites, according to Majority Leader Demone A. Smith. "At this moment in time, no one has the required five votes," he said during Monday afternoon's Council caucus.

Bollman is the senior aide to Council President Richard A. Fontana. Verel is a human resources consultant and former world champion kickboxer.

Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto and Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera each told The News that they support Fisher. The other four Council members would not say who they are supporting.

The Council's five-member majority, if they vote together, would have the power to appoint their choice of candidate. But Monday's events indicated at least some split among members of the majority, which includes Smith, Fontana, Golombek, University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell and Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen.

The Council could vote on the appointment as soon as today but won't formally vote until one candidate has the five votes needed to replace Michael P. Kearns, who won a March 20 special election for the Assembly.

More than two years ago, Pridgen was endorsed by Democratic committeemen in the effort to fill the Ellicott seat after Brian Davis resigned amid scandal in November 2009. But the Council appointed Curtis Haynes Jr., whom Pridgen later defeated in an election.

Pridgen said Monday he believes the committeemen's endorsement of Fisher "should be considered, but I'm not sure of how much weight it carries."

Pridgen said there are two candidates he is considering, but he would not reveal who they are.

Six candidates seeking the appointment fielded questions from lawmakers during public interviews Monday morning in City Hall.

For about two hours, the six applicants -- called in alphabetical order -- came one by one into Council Chambers, with the other candidates waiting in a conference room and not able to hear the proceedings. Afterward, lawmakers began meeting in groups of two or three to talk about which candidate they might support. "It's hard for a candidate to get five votes," Fontana said after the interviews.

During his interview, Fisher pointed to his experience dealing with housing issues in South Buffalo as Kearns' Housing Court liaison. He said he plans on running for the post in the fall, regardless of whether he gets the Council appointment.

Bollman, Fontana's top aide and Housing Court liaison since 2008, has previously said he would only hold the seat until someone else wins the seat in the fall election. However, on Monday he did not rule out a possible run for the seat. Noting that some people are pushing him to make a run, he said he will consider it at the required time.

Verel said he has been supporting new state legislation that would allow for better regulation of child safety in youth sports. Currently, there is no regulating body, he told lawmakers.

Eleven individuals filed documents with City Hall seeking the appointment, but five either dropped out of the race or failed to meet residency or other requirements for filling the seat.

The three others who were interviewed Monday were Linda M. Bain, Patrick B. Burke and Joseph M. Gartler III.

The Council had initially scheduled interviews for last Wednesday but had to reschedule when some lawmakers said they could not attend.

Monday afternoon, Smith said it's possible some lawmakers "just aren't ready to vote [today]," though he said he would like to see an appointment made so the South District residents have a voice during budget time.

Mayor Byron W. Brown is slated to introduce his 2012-13 budget May 1, which is also the date of the next Council meeting.