Michael Flaherty says he is way ahead in the primary race for Erie County District Attorney.
But are his polling numbers real or fake?
Flaherty, the acting district attorney, claims a recent survey of Democratic voters found him with a 29-point lead over fellow Democrat John Flynn and a 36-point lead over Mark Sacha.
In announcing the poll, Flaherty acknowledged it was done on his behalf but denied allegations it was a “push poll” designed to mislead the public.
“The people of Erie County have seen through the mudslinging of the party bosses and are responding to his positive vision for the office," said Flaherty spokeswoman Maggie McKeon.
Flaherty’s primary opponents see it another way.
“What kind of campaign is going on here?" asked Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner, a Flynn backer. “For the acting DA to blast this out in an email is outrageous.”
To hear Zellner talk, the poll is just one more example of the “underhanded” tactics used by Flaherty since the day he announced his candidacy.
Zellner said the poll’s questions intentionally include false and misleading information about Flynn and are intended to cast the challenger in a negative light.
“It’s beyond a lie," Sacha, the other Democrat running for DA, said of the poll. “But I’m not surprised the acting DA is engaged in more unethical behavior.”
Like Zellner, Sacha pointed to the survey’s questions to suggest it was nothing more than a push poll designed to mislead voters about Flaherty’s standing in the race.
One of the questions, for example, asks voters to evaluate Flynn given his ties to “corrupt Erie County Democratic bosses” and former county chairman G. Steven Pigeon, who was recently indicted on bribery and extortion charges.
Zellner said any suggestion that Pigeon is supporting Flynn is crazy and countered by claiming Flaherty is Pigeon’s candidate for DA.
Flaherty’s camp is quick to note that the poll included a similar question linking Flaherty and Pigeon. The campaign also pointed to Flynn’s efforts to gain Pigeon’s backing for a patronage position at the county Board of Elections to suggest that Zellner is hyprocritical in his criticism of Pigeon-backed candidates.
“Where were the party bosses when John Flynn was courting Steve Pigeon?" asked McKeon.
In a press release headlined “Flaherty holds commanding lead,” the acting district attorney released poll results showing him with 43 percent of the Democratic vote, Flynn with 14 percent and Sacha with seven percent. Flaherty also claims to lead among all major demographic groups.
The survey, done by David Binder Research of San Francisco, a Democratic Party pollster, was based on 400 telephone interviews with likely primary voters in Erie County. The poll was done between July 28 and July and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.
Zellner and Sacha say the results are the work of a desperate campaign eager to gain traction in a three-way race.
For Zellner, the more important campaign news is the departure of Rich Horner, Flaherty’s campaign manager.
“He up and quit," said Zellner. “I think he saw the handwriting on the wall.”
McKeon said Horner’s departure was always expected. He left after the Democratic Convention to work on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“When the future president calls,” she said, “you need to answer.”