County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw never shies away from recalling his days as a TV reporter – back when he was chasing stories and aiming microphones at pols in the aggressive style of Channel 2.
“I’m proud of the way I’ve helped save millions of dollars and held politicians accountable,” he said a few days ago when discussing his political future, almost as if he was still sporting his WGRZ red coat.
Indeed, Mychajliw retains a sense of the dramatic that makes for good television – and now for good politics. As Republican County Clerk Chris Jacobs mulls his own future and will soon decide whether to challenge incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz for county executive this year, Mychajliw is watching from the sidelines. He fully acknowledges he might run for the post himself in November, and sits back as those around him whisper the most dreaded word in all of Republican Land.
Yes, we’re talking the “p” word here – as in primary – as in something not talked about in nice, polite GOP circles.
To be sure, Mychajliw publicly and even privately insists that engaging Jacobs in an intramural fight won’t help the uphill Republican cause against a semi-entrenched Poloncarz.
“It’s absolutely, positively premature to have that discussion,” he said, adding he sees virtually no chance of a Republican primary this year to determine an opponent for the incumbent.
But he does not “absolutely, positively” rule it out, and those close to him don’t either. One adviser who asked not to be identified says the comptroller is unafraid of a primary, and that he has crafted an image from television and two successful campaigns for comptroller as a rabble-rouser and outsider eager to challenge the status quo.
“An establishment guy doesn’t spook him,” the Mychajliw adviser said. “In fact, he’s kind of relishing it because he hasn’t had party establishment support. He attributes his victory margins and Democrat votes to his outsider status. A primary victory against Jacobs would highlight this for the general.”
Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy doesn’t foresee a primary.
“There’s no appetite for that on either side,” he said. “And the party apparatus would be very disappointed if anyone tried to push it.”
As the Politics Column reported a few weeks ago, the Republicans remain in a holding pattern as Jacobs assesses the situation. Sources indicate he is again polling to determine if Poloncarz has slipped following rosy ratings from his November megastorm duties. And there is no question that his fundraising prowess and crossover appeal make the clerk the favorite among party regulars.
Still, the primary vibes from the Mychajliw camp represent exactly what is supposed to happen at this stage of the county executive contest. Mychajliw and Jacobs are silently waging a high-stakes staring contest, each waiting for the other to blink. And part of that is talk of a primary, along with denials of a primary.
Mychajliw, who has always struggled to raise money, would wage his third countywide campaign since 2012. Even the most optimistic Republicans know any effort against Poloncarz will prove difficult. That’s why both top Republicans could pass in 2015, paving the way for other potential candidates such as Legislator Ed Rath, Hamburg Supervisor Steve Walters or Assemblyman Ray Walter of Amherst, who just by coincidence is now dropping by the weekly Conservative conclave at Lackawanna’s Daisies Cafe.
The county executive campaign may be stalled in a holding pattern right now, but a palpable intensity grips this period of nothing.
Poloncarz, meanwhile, watches it all unfold with a sense of confidence, telling the Politics Column a few days ago that he is running, that he will announce soon and that he will run on his record.
All of this posturing will not go on forever. Most Republican sources believe Jacobs will soon decide and that he will be unfazed by hints of a primary.
By the third week of April, look for someone to end the GOP staring contest with a blink.