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A year early, Zellner faces challenge for Democratic Party leader

In Peter A. Reese's eyes, nothing has really changed.

He still sees a divided and dysfunctional Erie County Democratic Party.

He also sees a party in need of new leadership.

Reese, a North Buffalo lawyer and longtime Democratic committee member, announced last week his intention to challenge County Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner when Zellner comes up for re-elecction next year.

"Someone needs to take a stand and say this nonsense has to stop," Reese said.

The election for county chairman is still a year away. But Reese, 73, is hoping his early announcement will generate enthusiasm for a change at party headquarters.

Reese ran for chairman in 1982 and lost badly to then-chairman Joseph F. Crangle. He said his second run is motivated in part by Zellner's appointment as Erie County's Democratic elections commissioner and the conflict of interest it creates for Zellner.

"That couldn't be more wrong," Reese said of Zellner's joint duties. "In fact, he may be the only one in Erie County who doesn't think it's outrageous."

A frequent critic of Democratic headquarters, Reese said Zellner's role as party chairman makes it impossible for him to act responsibly on matters that come before the Board of Elections. He plans to file a lawsuit challenging Zellner's dual roles.

Reese is also angry over what he sees as the party leadership's continued opposition to fellow Democrats such as State Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, who is running for Erie County clerk.

Kearns may skip Democratic primary for county clerk

He said the party forced Kearns to run as a Republican in the past, an effort that also forced Democrats to then vote on the Republican line.

"The entire mechanism of the Democratic Party is designed to beat up on Democrats," he said.

Reese's opposition to Zellner is nothing new. In last year's election for chairman, he was among the committee members who called for a delay in the vote because of reports that the FBI had interviewed Zellner as part of its investigation into a 2014 State Senate election.

Zellner won re-election easily.

More recently, Reese helped Democrat David Martinez, a candidate for County Legislature, regain a spot on the Sept. 12 Democratic primary ballot.

The Board of Elections initially kicked Martinez off the ballot, and claimed he didn’t have the required 500 valid signatures on his nominating petitions.

When Martinez and Reese went to court, State Supreme Court Justice Paul B. Wojtaszek ruled that Martinez did indeed have the necessary signatures and ordered him back on the ballot.

Zellner, who was first elected chairman in 2012, could not be reached to comment.






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