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Politics Column: Pasceri party switch stirs speculation on clerk race

Back in October of 2015, Cheektowaga’s Joe Treanor marched down to the Erie County Board of Elections and changed his party registration. Unaffiliated with any party, the recently retired Air Force officer signed up with the Conservatives – just in time to qualify for their 2016 line and his plans to run for district attorney.

Fast forward to October of 2016 and what Amherst Conservative Chairman Bill Kindel calls a “stampede” of Republicans changing to Conservative. They included Supervisor Barry Weinstein and Clerk Marjory Jaeger, as well as other notables like former Amherst Republican Chairman Marshall Wood, former Town Board Members Guy Marlette and Barbara Nuchereno, and Comptroller Darlene Carroll. Kindel estimates as many as 20 Republican committee members made the change. Hmm.

Now Board of Elections records indicate another switcheroo to the Conservatives, and this one brings a big-time “hmm.” Joanna Pasceri, the former Channel 7 anchor and current spokeswoman for acting District Attorney Michael Flaherty, changed her party registration in October from Democrat to Conservative.

This one occurs in time for the election of 2017, and bolsters speculation that Pasceri will run for the county clerk vacancy created by last month’s election of current Republican Clerk Chris Jacobs to the Senate.

Pasceri isn’t talking, emphasizing that she is committed to Flaherty until his term expires – in two weeks. Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy also remains mum, as does his Conservative counterpart, Ralph Lorigo.

But a clear pattern is emerging. Potential Republican candidates aim to snare at least two lines – Republican and Conservative, by signing up as Conservatives. Then they hope to duplicate Treanor’s game plan.

Appealing to fellow Conservatives as one of their own, Treanor whipped Democrat John Flynn in last September’s Conservative primary. And already assured the GOP line, he then entered the general election with a major advantage after denying Flynn the often decisive Conservative line.

Only the dynamics of a presidential election year, in which Erie County’s overwhelming Democratic advantage turns out en masse, spoiled the strategy – though Treanor came about as close as any Republican could.

Now Pasceri and her strategists may be heading off Democrats at the pass. Several Democratic legislators – Pat Burke, Tom Loughran and Peter Savage – are mentioned as potential candidates for the Jacobs vacancy. Some of them or even another Democrat would no doubt covet the Conservative line, too. But Republicans could be one step ahead. They know an enrolled Conservative also endorsed by the GOP stands a far better chance of success in a Conservative primary than a Democrat. Just ask Flynn.

There’s something else at work here, too. Republicans very much like the idea of a Pasceri candidacy. She is well known as the longtime face of Channel 7 News. And to boot, she is female, Italian-American and hails from a key suburban base in the Town of Tonawanda. Maggie Brooks, a onetime Rochester TV anchor, followed the same path to the Monroe County clerk post and ultimately as county executive.

Hungry for still more strategy?

Turnout will prove nowhere near as strong as this year’s 64 percent (yes – that’s considered strong) in a presidential year. And chances are that the big election of 2017 – mayor of Buffalo – will be essentially decided in the September Democratic primary.

It’s also a solid bet that no Republican will enter the race in a town where they are outnumbered 7 to 1. That means turnout in heavily Democratic Buffalo will probably prove light. Suburban Republicans, on the other hand, may register a stronger turnout – much to the delight of a prospective Conservative-Republican candidate for clerk.

All of this occurs only in New York, where fusion voting allows for such machinations. Most states prohibit candidates from running on lines other than their own party. But New York’s arcane system long ago addicted its pols to fusion voting, and it’s not going to change soon. I Love New York!

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