For months, Erie County Republicans hoped that a well-known and proven vote-getter would challenge incumbent Democrat Mark C. Poloncarz for county executive this year.
But after State Sen. Christopher L. Jacobs of Buffalo on Tuesday decided not to run following the birth of his baby daughter, the GOP now looks to County Legislator Lynne M. Dixon of Hamburg.
While Jacobs may have loomed as the ideal candidate, Republicans and Conservatives may still have found in Dixon what they sought all along: a well-known and proven vote-getter.
Dixon did not return phone calls on Tuesday, and sources say the GOP may be a week away from any official action. But all signs point toward Dixon, a former radio and television reporter who would be the first woman to run for the post on a major party line.
Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo says Dixon has a knack for the election’s top requirement – winning in Democratic turf.
“It’s because she bonds with people, she’s a good constituent person, and she’s down to earth,” he said. “She’s so good in the ways you need to connect.”
Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy would say only that the eventual challenger will “restore fiscal discipline and respect for taxpayers back to the Rath Building.” It is known, however, the chairman has been courting Dixon for weeks in the expectation that Jacobs’ new family considerations would preclude his availability.
Langworthy’s committee is now prepared to move forward, sources say, since designating petitions hit the streets on Feb. 26 (previously they began circulating in June) under the state’s new election calendar. In addition, the only other Republican mentioned as a possible candidate – Legislator Edward A. Rath III of Amherst – said Tuesday he will seek re-election to the Legislature.
Dynamics of the contest took a significant turn last August when Republican County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw began exploring an eventual 27th Congressional District candidacy following the indictment of Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence. Mychajliw, who has scored three victories in heavily Democratic Erie County, had all but declared his county executive candidacy just weeks before.
Now the GOP’s turn toward Dixon, 53, emphasizes its underdog position in the face of Poloncarz’s many advantages of money, party enrollment and incumbency. Indeed, no other Republican stepped forward, and the party now looks outside its rolls to Dixon – a member of the Independence Party who caucuses with the GOP in the County Legislature.
Despite their new enthusiasm for Dixon, Poloncarz opponents remain deeply disappointed by the Jacobs decision. A father for the first time at 52, Jacobs said Tuesday a county executive undertaking simply did not work.
“It’s just not the right time for me or my family,” he said. “That was the first question you ask in something like this, and I could not get beyond that.”
Jacobs also decided against challenging the Poloncarz effort four years ago. Again this year, county leaders viewed the state senator as a popular Republican who consistently won in a Democratic district. They were especially cognizant of his substantial personal resources and the ability to help finance a countywide campaign that some say could cost $1 million.
Now the GOP mounts an uphill campaign against Poloncarz, who will officially kick off his candidacy at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday during a rally at 701 Seneca St. He is expected to emphasize his two terms as scandal-free and fiscally responsible (even though the GOP will challenge that claim). In addition, he presides over a county with approximately 135,000 more Democrats than Republicans.
Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner believes Poloncarz will make a strong case for a third term through Election Day on Nov. 5. He noted the GOP again faced difficulty finding a candidate for countywide office within its own ranks and resorted to an Independence member.
“At this time, not many people want to carry the Republican banner,” he said. “And the county executive has done a tremendous job governing this community. He shows a tremendous amount of strength right now.”
Dixon begins with virtually no money and faces the daunting task of financing a credible contest against a powerful incumbent. Though Poloncarz reports a relatively paltry $445,000 in his campaign treasury, he is expected to mount his own aggressive fundraising campaign and substantially increase that amount.
“Money will always be an issue,” Lorigo, the Erie County Conservative chairman, acknowledged Tuesday. “But I believe people will help fund Lynne for this battle, and she will not need as much money. She’s prepared for it and knows what it will take.”
Since Dixon’s term expires this year, her entrance into the county executive contest will also create a significant vacancy in the County Legislature. Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1 in the 9th District, and as a result, the GOP-led minority could forfeit the seat Dixon has managed to handily win throughout her political career.