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Robert McCarthy: Strange bedfellows bid farewell

Down in New York City, where ultra-progressives like Bill de Blasio preside, it might be hard to grasp the Tuesday night scene occurring 380 miles away in Lackawanna.

Byron Brown attended the interview meeting of the Erie County Conservative Party at Jay’s White Elephant as his re-election campaign for mayor of Buffalo kicks off. For many years, Democrat Brown has eagerly sought the minor party’s blessing.

But now Brown is also chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee. Upstate Conservatives and downstate Democrats cooperate about as much as Bills and Jets on the line of scrimmage. Especially in recent years, the two parties represent all that is opposite.

By all accounts, however, Brown “wowed ’em” at Jay’s White Elephant. He thanked the state’s top minor party for its long support, pointed to his record of holding the line on taxes and touted Buffalo’s growth and development during his almost 12 years as mayor.

“There’s not another elected official in this county who can say the same thing,” said Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo.

But this is Andrew Cuomo’s state chairman, the same Andrew Cuomo for whom 380 miles is too close for anything resembling a Conservative confab. This is the same Byron Brown, meanwhile, who hit the road in Pennsylvania and Florida last fall for Hillary Clinton, not exactly a darling of the Conservative set.

Indeed, the New York City crowd already wonders why some guy from Buffalo leads the party in the first place. The metropolis calls the shots, don’t you know.

Maybe that’s why so many pols are tiptoeing around the Tuesday meeting. Brown says his appearance was to say thank you – not to seek the endorsement.

“Things have certainly changed due to the fact that I am now the state Democratic Party chairman,” he said.

Lorigo says the mayor never submitted a formal letter seeking the endorsement, but acknowledges Brown asked for support during an earlier meeting.

“From the beginning of the year, my belief was that he was seeking the endorsement,” Lorigo said, adding it became mutually understood that Brown would not get it. Both men agreed the Tuesday appearance represented the best way to handle the inevitable split.

It gets even more complicated. Democrat Mark Schroeder also wants the endorsement after gaining the Conservative nod for years. The line could be crucial for Schroeder as a backup. If he loses the September Democratic primary to Brown, he could mount a credible campaign on the Conservative line through November.

But Erie County Conservatives still mostly align with Republicans, and the GOP doesn’t want anyone of Schroeder’s status on the city ballot in November. He could attract lots of voters in heavily Democratic Buffalo, complicating Republican hopes for a sweep by their countywide candidates.

Lorigo says the party will probably endorse a “placeholder” – a lawyer who can be substituted onto a State Supreme Court ballot somewhere in New York should Schroeder pull an upset and win the Democratic primary. Local Conservatives could then install him on the November mayoral ballot.


• Quick trivia question: Who is the new head of the national Republican Party?

Not many know that Ronna Romney McDaniel is new Republican National Committee chairwoman since Reince Priebus left the party helm for the White House. Kin of 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the former Michigan chairwoman will attend “friendraiser” meetings in the Buffalo area on June 5 and 6.

Top GOP supporters like Tony Gioia, Charlie Banta, Rep. Chris Collins, Charlie Joyce, Patrick Lee and Chairman Nick Langworthy are organizing the event.

• Quote of the Week comes from Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner on the party’s support for sheriff candidate Bernie Tolbert: “No one else has requested it, so we’ll be moving forward.”

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