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Democratic leaders pick Joel Feroleto for Council seat

Joel P. Feroleto, an attorney and cousin of the departing Buffalo Common Council member from the Delaware District, will likely be his successor.

Feroleto, 33, was chosen by Erie County Democratic Party leaders Thursday to run for the seat now held by Michael J. LoCurto, according to two party sources familiar with the selection.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner would neither confirm nor deny the selection, saying he will make an announcement Friday after a filing with the county Board of Elections.

Zellner did, however, say earlier Thursday that whoever is selected by the leadership will have overwhelming support of the party.

“I’ve been in touch with committee members and zone chairs over the last 48 hours,” Zellner said Thursday evening prior to the selection.

While the primary is not until September, and the general election not until November, the candidate chosen by the party leaders will be virtually ensured of victory. No one else is running for the seat on any other party line.

Feroleto previously served as a legislative aide to LoCurto, as well as to Antoine M. Thompson, a former Democratic member of the Council who also was a state senator. He also has worked for former Republican State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, and he unsuccessfully challenged then-County Legislator Lynn M. Marinelli in a Democratic primary.

Feroleto’s LinkedIn account says he works for a Syracuse law firm. His father, John P. Feroleto, also an attorney, is a significant contributor to the county Democratic Party, records show. His mother, Paula L. Feroleto, is a State Supreme Court justice.

Joel Feroleto would fill a vacancy created when LoCurto on Monday announced he is taking a position at the end of July as the county’s deputy commissioner of environment and planning.

LoCurto, a Democrat, accepted the county position after last week’s deadline for filing petitions to run in the November election. He already had 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 was up to the county Democratic leadership to pick someone to replace him on the ballot.

Others who contacted Democratic leaders about the job were: Steven Cichon, a former radio personality; Carima El-Behairy, founder of the Western New York Book Arts Center; attorney Julie Kruger; Sam Magavern, a lawyer who is co-director of Partnership for the Public Good; and Amanda Matyjas Crotty, manager of the Delaware Soccer Club.

The lateness of LoCurto’s exit from the Delaware District race led to some criticism that party leaders had hijacked the electoral process, taking the decision of who will serve as district Council member away from the voters.

But party leaders responded that the timing was not intentional.

LoCurto was offered the deputy commissioner job at this time because the post only recently opened up, according to Peter A. Anderson, a spokesman for County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.

There was no deliberate attempt to short-circuit the election process by having LoCurto drop out of the race when it was too late for others to run, Anderson said.

LoCurto said he had every intention of running for re-election until the county position became available.

“I wouldn’t have asked friends to get signatures on my petitions otherwise,” he said.

LoCurto was offered the job June 29, just 10 days before the July 9 deadline for filing campaign petitions for the upcoming election. LoCurto, who had a heart-liver transplant in 1996 and a kidney transplant in 2009, said he had to check issues related to health insurance before deciding if he would take the job.

As late as last Friday, he said, he was still seeking answers from the insurance company. Once LoCurto got the assurances he needed on the health insurance issues, he said, he accepted the county position.

Republicans blasted the Democrats over the way the Delaware seat is being filled.

“I think it is a very lousy way for the county executive to try to increase his power,” said County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy. “Poloncarz has taken this away from the voters.”

Some Democrats also objected.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Jason M. McCarthy, a member of the Buffalo Board of Education, who had been interested in running for the Delaware District seat. “They took away the voters’ right to choose. It’s disrespectful to the people of this community.”

Zellner lashed back at the Republican critics. “The Republican Party has done everything to suppress the vote by not running county legislators in the city or Common Council members, or City Court candidates or city comptroller,” he said. “For them to say we are up to chicanery, it is pretty hypocritical.”

Zellner’s response to McCarthy was more muted. Zellner said he was as surprised as everyone else to learn that LoCurto would be leaving the Council for a job with the county.

“This wasn’t a conspiracy,” Zellner said. “There was no conspiracy.”

He wished McCarthy “good luck.”