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Lawmakers want answers on withdrawal of Dankert-Maurer’s nomination

Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo wants to know why County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz withdrew his appointment of former Social Service Commissioner Carol Danker-Maurer to head the Department of Mental Health.

The Legislature had been scheduled to vote on confirming Dankert-Maurer’s appointment on Thursday, but the issue was made moot when Poloncarz, without explanation, withdrew her name from consideration on Monday, in the wake of mounting criticism for her performance as social services commissioner.

Dankert-Maurer’s qualifications to head the Mental Health Department were rigorously challenged by lawmakers at a committee hearing on Jan. 22.

“While withdrawing Ms. Dankert-Maurer’s name is not entirely unexpected after last week’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting, I find your complete reversal surprising,” Lorigo said in a letter to Poloncarz Wednesday.

It was all but certain that Dankert-Maurer was not going to be confirmed by the Republican-aligned majority caucus after her grilling by the committee. Lorigo, a Conservative from West Seneca, acknowledged Thursday that he had not planned to rubberstamp the appointment before it was withdrawn.

Still, even in the face of criticism, Lorigo said Poloncarz was a stalwart advocate of Dankert-Maurer, leaving many legislators puzzled as to why the county executive did not stick it out.

“If (Poloncarz) really believed she was qualified for the job, he should have stood behind her and told us why he believed she was qualified,” Lorigo said, after the Legislature’s meeting Thursday.

In his letter to Poloncarz, Lorigo said that hearing the county executive’s reasoning on the withdrawal would help him in evaluating future candidates for the post put forward by Poloncarz.

Peter A. Anderson, a spokesman for Poloncarz, said Thursday that the county executive did receive Lorigo’s letter and offered a written response to it.

Poloncarz “has responded to Legislator Lorigo about that letter, but the substance of that response is between the county executive and the legislator,” Anderson said.

“It would be great if Mr. Lorigo shared the substance of those remarks with the media,” Anderson added.

Meanwhile, Lorigo expressed his support for increasing the scope of the county executive’s search for a new Dankert-Maurer has been handling the responsibilities of both the commissioner of social services and the commissioner of mental health on an interim basis.

“We need to do a thorough nationwide search for someone to lead these departments because they are serving the most vulnerable members of our society and the Legislature and myself, in particular, would be happy to help with any search that goes on,” Lorigo said.