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Democrats weighing candidate to succeed LoCurto on Council

The election is still months away, but Erie County Democrats are expected Thursday to pick a candidate likely to replace Michael J. LoCurto as Common Council member from the Delaware District.

The contenders include these residents of the district:

• Steven Cichon, a former radio personality.

• Carima El-Behairy, founder of the WNY Book Arts Center.

• Joel Feroleto, a lawyer who is LoCurto’s cousin.

• Julie Kruger, a lawyer.

• Sam Magavern, a lawyer who is co-director of Partnership for the Public Good.

• Amanda Matyjas Crotty, manager of the Delaware Soccer Club.

LoCurto’s committee on vacancies is picking his likely successor because of the last-minute exit by the Council member, who said Monday that he accepted an offer from Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz to serve as deputy commissioner of the county Department of Environment and Planning.

LoCurto, who has represented the Delaware District on the Council for nine years, is scheduled to start his new job at the end of July.

He accepted the position with the county after last Thursday’s deadline for filing petitions to run in the upcoming election. LoCurto, a Democrat, had already filed his nominating petitions to seek re-election, and no one else in the Delaware District filed petitions to run for the seat.

As a result, it’s up to the candidate’s committee on vacancies to pick someone to replace him on the ballot.

Potential candidates were have been interviewed in recent days, and County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner said a decision is expected Thursday night.

Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter, R-Amherst, who is running against Poloncarz, a Democrat, for county executive, criticized Poloncarz for what he described as a last-minute selection of LoCurto as deputy commissioner of environment and planning.

“This is a dirty, secretive and intentional way to disenfranchise voters in the Delaware district,” Walter said. “By waiting to appoint LoCurto, the Democratic machine gets to appoint an insider to a full four-year term with no opposition. Voters are completely left out of the equation.

But Poloncarz spokesman Peter A. Anderson said the timing of the election had no bearing on the appointment of LoCurto. Anderson said LoCurto was offered the job when the position became available.

The post of deputy commissioner opened up when the former deputy, Thomas J. Dearing, was promoted to the commissioner’s spot June 29.

“Mr. LoCurto discussed the position with the administration, was offered the position and took it after thinking it over,” Anderson said.

“There’s no political thing going on. It’s just the position was open.”

LoCurto has said he needed to consider, among other things, health insurance issues before accepting the offer. LoCurto, 44, had a heart and liver transplant in 1996 and a kidney transplant in 2009.

Dearing, 64, succeeds Maria R. Whyte, who served as commissioner as well as deputy county executive after former Deputy County Executive Richard M. Tobe left the position. Tobe took a state position in the Cuomo administration.

“The position needed to be filled, and a very qualified candidate took the post,” Anderson said of LoCurto.

“Mike has a master’s in urban and regional planning – valedictorian of his 2002 UB class – and has been at the forefront of revitalization efforts in the Elmwood Village and Hertel Avenue areas in his more than nine years on the Council.

“He brings a great skill set to the deputy commissioner post.”