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Caught in the middle

If one member of the County Legislature earns the title of most enduring, it might just be Tom Mazur.

The Cheektowaga Democrat remains a fixture over two legislative stints dating to 1988, and as majority leader, ranks second in command of the big chambers in County Hall.

Now Mazur is emerging as a pivotal figure in the 2013 edition of local politics as he faces a serious Democratic primary challenge from former Cheektowaga Councilman Rick Zydel. The outcome of the contest may help determine the future of the Erie County Democratic Party.

Mazur, who insists he is running this year, commands scrutiny not so much on his own, but for the pickle in which he has placed Jeremy Zellner. The Erie County Democratic chairman recognizes that Zydel is backed by Cheektowaga Democratic Chairman Frank Max. And you may recall that Zellner beat Max for county chairman last year and that Max is already planning a 2014 rematch.

While some Democrats consider Mazur vulnerable in his own party, Zellner is now asked to bestow his endorsement on him. At the same time, Zellner depends on his vote and those of other Democrats in the Legislature majority to sustain his $79,577 job as chief of staff.

In other words, challengers to incumbent Democratic legislators need not apply. Still, some well-placed sources hint the Democratic establishment would just as soon see someone besides Mazur represent the party in November.

Zellner says he supports Mazur and offers this semi-enthusiastic endorsement: “If at the end of the day we think he's not the best candidate for the job, I have to do what's best for the Legislature.

“At this point, if something opens up, it opens up,” he added. “Tom has some thinking to do.”

Mazur faces problems outside the party, too, especially with the Conservative backing he has always enjoyed. His votes in favor of County Executive Mark Poloncarz's budget and against a resolution seeking repeal of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's gun control measure have labeled him persona non grata in Conservative Land.

“You've got to be kidding me,” Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo responded last week when a naive political columnist asked about backing Mazur this year.

In addition, Democratic Legislator Terry McCracken faces Conservative difficulties over his vote for the Poloncarz budget.

“He clearly has problems with us,” Lorigo said, adding he believes McCracken might view his vote differently next time.

In fact, the budget loomed so importantly for Conservatives that Lorigo personally sat in the legislative chambers for the vote. Some have used the word “glaring” to describe his scrutiny that day of those who had previously run on the Conservative line.

All of this results in a tough assignment for Zellner, the rookie chairman. He starts the second six months of his chairmanship as a non-person in the eyes of Cuomo's party leadership. And he maintains a tenuous relationship with Mayor Byron Brown as they dance through a comical courtship about which neither seems to care.

Zellner must also fend off a furious assault by Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy on the slim 6-5 Democratic majority in the Legislature, while preserving his chief of staff job. In addition, he faces big-time pressure to win back the posts of sheriff and county comptroller for his Dems.

The chairman feels good about the choice of Lynn Szalkowski to challenge Stefan Mychajliw for comptroller, just as Republicans were wondering if the Dems would field anybody. He is also experiencing a rough beginning with his choice of Bert Dunn for sheriff, after revelations of the candidate's Republican sympathies and a history of four separate party registrations.

Nevertheless, Zellner says the party will make its sheriff endorsement on May 4, and that it remains a “Dunn Deal.”

There is no comparable cute phrase to use for Mazur, and Zellner didn't try to find one.