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Despite fight, County Legislature leadership remains unchanged

Republican John J. Mills of Orchard Park will continue to preside as chairman of the 11-member Erie County Legislature next year despite a strong push by fellow Republican Legislator Edward A. Rath III of Amherst for the seat.

Mills has Democrats to thank for keeping his leadership post.

Mills is allied with the Republican-supported majority, which includes Conservative Joseph Lorigo and Independent Lynne Dixon. Legislature Democrats generally like and appreciate Mills' leadership style because he tends to be more inclusive and is less overtly partisan in his dealings with the minority party members.

When Mills was a member of the Republican minority in the Legislature years ago, he said, he remembered how Democrats marginalized him and his Republican colleagues. Since becoming chairman, he said, he's made it a point to set a more consistent and businesslike standard for the Legislature.

"I’ve kind of taken the politics out of it," Mills said. "We get things done together, and I think that’s what the role of chairman is."

According to legislators and staffers on both sides of the aisle, the Legislature's five Democratic minority members signed Mills' chairmanship petition. Majority Leader Lorigo, C-West Seneca, also supported Mills, breaking with other members of the Republican-supported majority to give Mills the crucial signature he needed to maintain his seat.

Rath had sought the chairmanship last year, as well, but apparently believed he had an agreement from other members of the Republican-supported majority to support him for chairman in 2017. While Rath gained support from some members of the majority to become chairman in January, neither Lorigo nor Mills supported Rath.

Rath did not return a call to comment.

Mills said he understands the desire for Rath and others to rise up the leadership ranks in the Legislature.

"Ed’s a rising star in our party," Mills said. "He wants opportunities and he’s expressed interest, but I think my performance speaks for itself."

Both Rath and Lorigo had previously vied for the position of Legislature majority leader, a position that Lorigo succeeded in winning and keeping. Lorigo will continue to serve as majority leader next year.

Democrat Thomas A. Loughran of Amherst will remain minority leader.

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