Here are some facts about Joseph V. Treanor III, the district-attorney candidate you have heard little about as three Democratic hopefuls slug it out before Tuesday’s party primaries:
• During his Air Force career, Treanor refused to join a political party, and that was his preference in civilian life. Running for countywide office changed that. In October, he enrolled as a Conservative.
• Had he been elected as a Cheektowaga town justice in 2014, he probably would not be running now. His obligation would have been to complete the four-year term, he said.
• He is financing his own race because he refuses to accept campaign donations. If elected, he would not take donations even from the staff, a traditional source of money for the county’s top elected prosecutor.
“When you are talking about a position that impacts the administration of justice," Treanor said, “my personal ethics, my personal philosophy, is that you can’t take money."
Taking money means you owe favors, he said, or, at the very least, the public suspects you have been bought.
Treanor is just four days from his own primary contest, in which he attempts to grab the potentially significant Conservative Party line from John J. Flynn Jr., a Democrat cross-endorsed by Conservative Party leaders.
Among Erie County’s minor parties, the Conservatives are second in number only to the Independence Party. But Treanor already enjoys the Independence Party backing, which is decided at the state level and often accompanies the Republican endorsement. Should Treanor win the Conservative Party primary, his name would appear on three well-established party lines.
It could give him a fighting chance in November, though Democrats have won the DA’s race in recent decades. Erie County elects its district attorneys in presidential election years, which draws out more of the county’s Democratic voters. Democrats in Erie County outnumber Republicans almost 2-1. In a smattering of recent DA’s races, the Republican Party did not field a candidate when Democratic incumbents sought re-election.
The wild card this year is Donald Trump atop the GOP ticket. Will Trump, who drew 12,000 people to a Buffalo rally, win Erie County and bolster Republican prospects here?
“In an outsider year like this, I think he will sell incredibly well,” county Republican Chairman Nicholas Langworthy said of Treanor in June, when he threw his hat into the ring.
In May, the county’s Conservative Party chairman, Ralph C. Lorigo, announced that Flynn had won the party leaders’ support.
“This job is one of the most sensitive jobs in the entire county and it needs to be handled in a sensitive manner, and hopefully in a nonpolitical manner,” Lorigo said at the time.
The Conservatives leaders were impressed by Flynn’s service as a Judge Advocate General officer in the Naval Reserve, his experience as an assistant district attorney, and as a former Tonawanda councilman, town judge and attorney.
Treanor’s response: “Mr. Lorigo gets to make his own choices based upon his beliefs.
“That said, with all due respect, I believe he is woefully misinformed about my background.”
Like Flynn, Treanor has experience as a JAG officer, more in fact. He spent 28 years in the Air Force as a military lawyer before retiring as a colonel in 2012. During several assignments, Treanor said, he served as the military equivalent of a district attorney. And because the military throws lots of responsibility on people almost from the start, he was prosecuting major felonies within six months of joining the Air Force.
“I have prosecuted virtually every kind of a criminal offense that’s out there," he said.
Treanor says he has heard the criticism that it’s easy to win convictions in military courts. But he argues that the Uniform Code of Military Justice protects defendants better than many people might realize. For example, the military has had the equivalent of a Miranda warning since 1951, long before the U.S. Supreme Court — in Miranda v. Arizona in 1966 — forced authorities to inform suspects they have the right to remain silent.
Further, military defendants are allowed to have their lawyers question witnesses during the equivalent of the grand jury process and present their own arguments, he said. This more robust test of the evidence at the grand jury level allows only the solid cases to move forward, Treanor said, and the cases are more likely to end in a conviction.
Treanor voices few criticisms of the district attorney’s office as currently run.
“I don’t want to be in a position of criticizing or speaking ill of opposing candidates. That’s not what I am about," he said. He will only say, without being specific, that he was sometimes “chagrined" when he read about certain events in Erie County’s criminal justice system.
His attitude about running a large district attorney’s office is to hire good people, solicit their input, make sure they are trained well and then get out of their way.
North Buffalo roots
Treanor grew up in North Buffalo, on Wallace Avenue off of Hertel. His father had fought in World War II, and his grandfather in World War I, but neither made a career of the military. His mother was a Buffalo school teacher.
“I grew up in a very patriotic family," he once told an interviewer for an Air Force Reserve website, “so it’s fair to say, I always wanted to serve my country. When I was in law school, I heard about the JAG Corps, and I thought it would be an ideal way to serve, to gain immediate trial experience, and to see the world.
“Originally, I had planned to serve four years and then return home," he continued, “but I enjoyed the people, mission and sense of honorable commitment so much that I chose to make the Air Force a career."
When asked about his memorable experiences, he mentioned serving as Bob Hope’s escort officer for his TV Show commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Air Force in 1987; serving as a White House Social Aide, which allowed him to meet college football coaches Lou Holtz and Joe Paterno and the Apollo 11 astronauts; and a ride with the Air Force Thunderbirds.
But in his resume, Treanor also says he had a better than 95 percent success rate in more than 100 criminal cases, ranging from the physical and sexual abuse of children to international terrorism.
He also accumulated evidence to use against Saddam Hussein.
A piece of shrapnel resides at his left lung, inserted there during a mortar and rocket attack in Iraq. He received the Purple Heart and also has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal for valor in combat.
When interviewed by the Air Reserve website, Treanor was asked what he might do in retirement. Perhaps teach at a law school, he answered, or coach a high school football team on the side. And when he’s “completely retired” he would spend “considerable time volunteering,” he said.
To that end, he said he has been providing pro bono legal support to veterans. And in 2015, he served as a United Way “leadership executive” to help the agency with its charitable fund raising.
He also has waded into the public arena. Aside from running for Cheektowaga town justice in 2014, he spoke publicly in favor of a tax exemption in the town for veterans. He spoke at a forum about the future of the Scajaquada Expressway that bisects Delaware Park and said that the park’s designer, the famed urban landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, would, if alive today, “be figuring ways to incorporate modern transportation needs into his designs.”
“He wouldn’t have denied the existence of automobiles,” Treanor said at the event in 2014.
He has been campaigning inexpensively. He goes to parades and events, walks door to door and posts items of interest about himself on social media. He realizes he’s largely unknown to most of the electorate. But to gather votes he prefers to tell people about himself rather than criticize the other candidates.
“I think that the electorate, they are smart people," Treanor said. “I believe there is a fair amount of dissatisfaction, or disaffection, on certain issues. All I can present to them is what positively I stand for. I stand for integrity first. I stand for doing the right thing. I stand for fearlessness in the face of opposition.
“I have never failed to prosecute a hard case because if it’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. And conversely, if it’s the right thing to drop charges I have done that as well,’’ he said.
“The job of a district attorney is to do justice, not, necessarily, to win overall.”