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County clerk primary could offer 'proxy' contest for mayor

The expected Democratic primary between incumbent Byron W. Brown and Mark J.F. Schroeder may not be the only contest for mayor this September.

A simultaneous Democratic primary for county clerk is brewing between Michael P. Kearns and Janique S. Curry, and that may serve as a “proxy election” that could increase turnout and aid each mayoral candidate in his home turf.

Curry could draw East Side voters to the polls on Primary Day, aiding Brown, while a Kearns candidacy may appeal to South Buffalo Democrats, helping Schroeder, the city comptroller.

“This goes right back to what Joe Crangle did,” said Stephen T. Banko III, a veteran of several mayoral campaigns, referring to the longtime Erie County Democratic chairman.

“He’d take a race he was really interested in and then put candidates in local primaries to increase the draw,” he said. “You get that favorite son on the ballot, and people turn out in those areas.”

[RELATED STORY: Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder ready to challenge Brown for mayor]

Neither Kearns, a Democratic assemblyman, nor Curry acknowledge any coordination with mayoral candidates.

Curry, a former Buffalo Board of Education member who now works as a compliance coordinator for Erie County Medical Center, is not discussing her efforts. But several sources say she is seeking support among key Democrats.

Curry is a longtime member of Grassroots, the mayor’s political club and home to many of his allies. She almost certainly would enjoy the organizational and fundraising abilities of Grassroots, and could prove an incentive for voters in Brown’s Masten and Ellicott district base to turn out on Primary Day.

As for Kearns?

"I’ve begun the race,” he said.

But unlike the natural alliance between Brown and Curry, the Schroeder-Kearns link for the September primary appears coincidental.

Kearns makes it clear he is not aligned with any other candidate as he takes the unusual route of seeking support from Democrats, Republicans and Conservatives.

“I’m not running to help Mark, and I’m not running to hurt the mayor’s campaign,” he said. “I’m running for the job of clerk.”

Though Kearns has run for the Common Council and Assembly as a Democrat, he also has enjoyed GOP backing since his first Assembly run in 2012. Now he is seeking Republican and Conservative backing for clerk, with sources in both parties not ruling out his candidacy or that of anyone else at this point.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner describes the clerk situation as “absolutely wide open.” He said he recognizes the potential for the Kearns and Curry candidacies to affect the simultaneous mayoral contest.

Other factors could affect a Democratic primary for clerk. Erie County Democrats are said to be urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to appoint a county clerk to replace Republican Christopher L. Jacobs, who was elected to the State Senate in November.

The governor traditionally prefers to let voters fill vacancies, but is known to make exceptions. Several sources say some Erie County Democrats are urging him to appoint former County Legislature Chairwoman Lynn M. Marinelli. If he does, she would become the favorite for the party endorsement.

That move would allow Marinelli, now a member of Cuomo’s economic development staff in Buffalo, to gain an incumbency advantage when running in the fall.

Kearns said he is running no matter what happens.

“I have met with the mayor and the county executive and made it clear I will run even if there is an appointment,” he said.

Other factors also enter the clerk equation before a mayoral proxy contest develops.

Democrat Hormoz L. Mansouri, an Amherst businessman with close ties throughout the Democratic Party, is also discussing the race.

On the Republican side, several sources say Joanna Pasceri, a former Channel 7 anchorwoman and now spokeswoman for the Erie County district attorney, could emerge as a candidate. She is a registered Conservative.

[COLUMN: Pasceri party switch stirs speculation on clerk race]

Zellner did not rule out endorsing Pasceri, the Conservative.

Cuomo is slated to headline an Erie County Democratic fundraiser on Thursday for the first time in his political career. The move is viewed as a sign of improved relations between Cuomo and local Democrats, who have never been close.

Several observers say the Thursday event may provide Zellner and company an opportunity to further press for a clerk appointment, possibly for Marinelli.

“The governor’s people are open to the possibility,” Zellner said. “It would make our decision that much easier.”

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