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Bob McCarthy: Political season springs up early

More news, notes and observations:

• There’s something “off” about politics around here.
Candidates are popping up everywhere, campaign strategizing is under way, and the usual low buzz of February is already loud.

Something is not right – elections are November affairs and we’re just past Groundhog Day.

It all stems from Albany’s new Democratic majority and the flurry of legislation streaming from the Capitol, including voting reforms that consolidate state and federal primaries in June.

Instead of primary voters casting their ballots on this year’s normal date of Sept. 10, mark your political calendar for new Primary Day on June 25. That means designating petitions hit the streets on Feb. 26, forcing Democrats and Republicans alike to begin the process now.

Hence, Legislator Lynne Dixon emerged last week as the Republican front-runner to challenge Democratic County Executive Mark Poloncarz, veteran Council Member David Franczyk announced his retirement, and politics shifted into high gear even though they just pulled that rodent from his Punxsutawney lair.

Some say all of this will drastically change the annual St. Patrick’s Day luncheon set for March 15 at the Buffalo Irish Center, when pols of all stripes parade around with sashes and candidate buttons (“just like Haile Selassie,” said the late luncheon co-founder Tom Blake). Some have even declared their candidacies at the event traditionally considered the unofficial launch of politicking season.

On second thought, no worries. Every pol in captivity from state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli on down will still work the room. They can’t help themselves.

• Politics season has also begun in New York City, where Nomiki Konst – daughter of former County Legislator Kathy Konst – is running for public advocate, the city’s second highest office most recently occupied by new state Attorney General Tish James. It’s a crowded field for the high-profile post, but she is gaining lots of media attention and emphasizing her Bernie Sanders-like politics.

• Just as new congresswomen in their white attire gained major attention at last week’s State of the Union address, some black-robed women also made history in Rochester. On Jan. 10, a panel of Appellate Division jurists – Nancy Smith and Joanne Winslow of Rochester, along with Erin Peradotto and Shirley Troutman of Buffalo – heard oral arguments in an appeal involving post-divorce distribution of assets.

It was the first time in the court’s history that an all-female panel of four justices presided over oral arguments.
“It is clearly an important milestone to have a panel comprised entirely of the court’s female justices,” noted Smith, who presided over the session.

• And speaking of early politicking, Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner will lead a local delegation to New Hampshire for the state committee’s annual dinner on Feb. 22. It’s a sure bet the venue will be crawling with 2020 presidential hopefuls.

“We’ll have a big table there and hope to get the lay of the land,” Zellner said. “We look forward to talking with some of the candidates.”

Zellner appears to be one of those New York Democrats still hoping for Andrew Cuomo to join the crowded field, despite the governor’s insistence that he is not a candidate. Cuomo has not endorsed anyone, and has sounded positive about former Vice President Joe Biden, who delivered a rousing speech for him at last May’s Democratic State Convention.
“Andrew has sounded very presidential lately, and if he gets in this thing it will be very interesting to New Yorkers,” Zellner said. “We’ll see.”

• Quote of the Week also comes from Zellner, who noted Byron Brown’s successful tenure upon leaving the state Democratic chairmanship, while never enjoying close relations with the Buffalo mayor. He said he looks forward to working with Cuomo’s newly named state chairman – Nassau County leader Jay Jacobs.

“We think the world of Jay Jacobs and have a close relationship with him,” Zellner said. “We have a county leader who understands this is a real job.”

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