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Democrats pour more than $100,000 into county clerk's race

The Erie County Democratic Party and its leaders  poured close to $125,000 into Steven J. Cichon's  campaign for county clerk in the final weeks before this Tuesday's election.

They also are upping their ante by $25,000 in Bernard A. Tolbert's campaign for sheriff.

The big donors to Cichon's campaign are Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz's political committee ($25,000 on Oct. 22), the Erie County Democratic Committee ($65,000 on Oct. 23), Democratic County Chairman Jeremy Zellner's political committee ($25,000 on Oct. 27) , and the Democratic Committee again ($7,000 more on Oct.31).

Tolbert's campaign for sheriff, meanwhile, got $25,000 from Zellner's political committee Oct. 21.

"We feel good about all our candidates," Zellner said. "We want to make sure they are competitive. We are never going to be able to compete with Republicans for money. They have  incumbents, and have more deep-pocketed donors and big businesses that gives them money that we are unable to get.  They are able to hit people  that do business with their offices."

Tolbert is running against incumbent Republican Sheriff Timothy B. Howard while Cichon is running against Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, a registered Democrat running on the Republican line.

The third countywide Democratic candidate,  Vanessa Glushefski, received $2,000 from Zellner's committee last May, but has not received any additional Democratic Party funds as she runs against incumbent Republican Stefan I. Mychajliw.

Glushefski wants to maintain independence as a county comptroller, and therefore wants to run without as much financial support from the Democratic Party, Zellner and the Glushefski campaign said.

"I helped her earlier in the year," Zellner said. "Vanessa is running her own independent  campaign. She is not relying on the campaign structure the rest of the candidates are."

"While we are the endorsed Democrat, and share Democratic values, we want to be able to maintain objectivity by relying as much as possible on the support of community members even when that means not taking party money," said Glushefski spokeswoman Nikki Hitchcock.

Erie County Republican leaders say the Erie County Democrats are wasting their money, and predict a GOP sweep of countywide seats in next week's election.

"I am happy to see local Democrats throwing their money away on a lost cause," said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy.

"You are seeing their obsession with defeating Mickey Kearns, and also trying to purchase the Erie County Sheriff's office," he said.

The three Republican Party candidates for countywide office are raising funds to finance their own campaigns, without money from county headquarters, Langworthy said.

Republican political operative Christopher Grant said the Democrats view the clerk's race as "personal" because Kearns is the Republican nominee.

"This will be the second time Mickey has embarrassed them," Grant said, predicting a Kearns victory next week.

He  noted that Kearns, a Democrat, won his Assembly seat by running on the GOP line, and is now running with Republican backing for county clerk.

Cichon, meanwhile, said he views the strong financial support he's receiving from the Erie County Democratic leadership as an indication that his campaign is doing well.

"I think I'm going to win," Cichon said. "Everything is moving in the right direction. If they are investing in my campaign, things have to be looking very good."

Kearns charged the Democratic Party is trying to buy the election so that it can use the clerk's office as a patronage haven.

"From the beginning, they didn't want me because they know that I am independent," Kearns said of the Erie County Democratic Party leaders. "They know they can't call me up and say 'We have these people we want to place.'" he said.

"It's unprecedented they are putting this amount of money in this office," he continued, adding: "You can't buy an election."

For both Tolbert and Cichon, the Democratic leadership contributions represent a significant portion of their fundraising, which has lagged behind their Republican competitors.

In the clerk's race,  the $122,000 Cichon received from the Democratic Party and party leaders in the last two weeks represents all but $43,000 of the total $165,070 Cichon's political committee has raised throughout the campaign.

Similarily, Tolbert's $144,000 in total campaign funds includes $50,000 Tolbert has loaned his campaign, as well as the $25,000 contribution from Zellner's political committee.

Tolbert previously said it's challenging to raise funds when running against a three-term incumbent, such as Howard, but that he would have enough money to remain competitive throughout the race.

Howard raised just under $290,000 this campaign season, and spent about $250,000 as of Oct. 23, much of it on television advertising, according to campaign reports filed with the state Board of Elections.

Kearns raised about $109,000  and spent about $25,000 prior to Oct.23, but  the candidate said his spending has ratcheted up - and fundraising has continued -  because of television commercials purchased for these final weeks of the election.

Republican comptroller Mychajliw - who started the campaign with about $55,000 in his political fund -  raised almost $100,000 this campaign season. The nearly $70,000 that Democratic challenger Glushefski raised includes a $25,000 family loan.

While Zellner said the Republican ability to raise funds reflects the power of incumbency, Langworthy said GOP candidates, running on their records, have worked hard and raised needed money to finance their campaigns.

The campaign contributions are included in the 11-day pre-general election reports due with the state Board of Elections last Monday,  including contributions up to Oct. 23.  There are also reports of daily campaign contributions of $1,000 or more received after Oct. 23.

As of Oct. 23, Howard had $93,243 remaining in his sheriff's campaign fund while Tolbert had $59,028.

Kearns had $83,532 remaining in county clerk campaign fund while Cichon had $51,614.

Mychajliw had $15,873 in his comptroller's campaign fund while Glushefski had $41,950.

The reports show Tolbert received $1,500 from Daniel Rifkin, a West Seneca doctor; and $2,000 from Gregory Daniel, an Amherst physician, since Oct. 23.

Howard since Oct. 23 received a total of $6,000 - $2,000 each from the Seneca Nation of Indians,  Elma attorney Karen Karamanoukian and developer Carl Paladino's Turning Albany Upside Down political committee, which also gave $10,000 on Oct.25 to the Erie County Republican Committee.


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