After weighing for weeks whether to disconnect from the legacy of former District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, it now appears that is exactly where Erie County Democrats are heading.
Sources from various factions said Tuesday that they expect party leaders to endorse John J. Flynn Jr. on Saturday when they meet at Grapevine Banquets in Depew. Although no one is officially forecasting the meeting’s outcome, just about everyone expects the veteran party insider and former Tonawanda town justice to gain the party nod over challengers Michael J. Flaherty Jr. and Mark A. Sacha.
It all would amount to a rejection of Flaherty, the acting district attorney and longtime Sedita lieutenant. As recently as last week, County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner was telegraphing the move toward Flynn when he said the party needed to decide between backing the controversial Sedita’s top assistant or heading in a different direction.
Such a move also would signal a potential three-way primary for the post in September, with each candidate expecting to run for the nomination with or without the party endorsement.
Still, it appears that the party will dissociate itself from the twice-elected Sedita, who won a State Supreme Court judgeship in November. It also appears enthusiastic about the prospect of choosing Flynn.
“There’s a lot of respect for Mark Sacha,” said one party source familiar with the process. “I just think John’s experience, and the depth and breadth of his involvement in the legal and political community gives him a leg up.
“It is time to move beyond the Sedita era, and Mike Flaherty basically represents that.”
Zellner would offer no comment other than indicating that the party has thoroughly explored all options.
“I’ve been talking to all the (town and zone) chairs, and there’s been a lot of discussion,” he said. “I think we’ll have a firm decision on Saturday.”
Flaherty on Tuesday would not pronounce Flynn’s endorsement a “done deal.” “I would not underestimate the intelligence of the committee to think that,” he said. “The smart people are leaning toward me.”
But even if Flynn is the panel’s choice, Flaherty said he will run in the September primary and November elections.
“I was prepared for the fact that the party bosses might have someone else in mind,” he said, adding that nothing has changed his resolve to run.
Still, Flaherty said he sees no reason for the party’s early decision.
“I don’t understand the rush of this process,” he said. “They’re getting ahead of themselves.”
In recent weeks, Flaherty has also moved to distance himself from his former boss. Almost immediately after he announced his candidacy in November, the acting district attorney said he would establish a Public Integrity Unit to combat political and government corruption.
Flaherty also released his proposal for tough new ethics guidelines for county officials he hopes will adopted by the County Legislature.
In addition, The Buffalo News reported that his office would re-examine the hit-and-run death of Barry T. Moss in a 2013 Town of Evans incident after law enforcement criticized Sedita for failing to fully pursue the case.
Sedita also had been criticized – especially by Sacha – for his reluctance to prosecute corruption. Sedita fired the 22-year veteran of the District Attorney’s Office in 2009 when Sacha publicly complained that his boss issued a pass on election law violations to former County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon because of his political influence.
Now, Sacha appears to be preparing for his own primary campaign, though on Tuesday he did not criticize the endorsement process.
“I feel as though I’ve been treated with respect,” he said.Several Democratic insiders said Tuesday that the move toward Flynn reflects lingering divisions in the party between the headquarters faction and insurgents associated with Pigeon.
While Zellner has moved to solidify the party in many respects, one source said that some Flaherty supporters are viewed as part of the Pigeon faction and that the perception has hurt his chances for the endorsement.
And though Sedita always enjoyed party support and won his last two elections for district attorney and State Supreme Court with bipartisan backing and no opposition, one source said Flaherty’s association with Sedita’s tenure did not enhance his chances.
“Unfortunately,” the source said, “Flaherty has to wear that.”
On the Republican side, County Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy said he continues his search for a candidate to face the winner of the expected Democratic primary in September.
When asked whether he would consider cross-endorsing a Democrat, as the GOP did for Sedita in 2012, Langworthy said, “Everything is on the table.”