Lynne M. Dixon launches her campaign for Erie County executive Wednesday minus any cheering crowd, balloon-decorated stage or grand announcement before microphones and cameras.
But make no mistake about it. The veteran county legislator from Hamburg is the Republican candidate to challenge County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz this year – and she promises the incumbent the fight of his life.
Dixon told The Buffalo News on Tuesday she will take on the Democrat seeking a third term, presenting herself as consensus builder in a government too divided by politics. She will point to her 22 years as a radio and television reporter before joining the County Legislature as the basis for seeing both sides of issues, while arguing that Poloncarz has run the Rath County Office Building with “hyperpolitics” that she brands too liberal.
“He spends most of his time on Twitter keying off on national or international issues rather than focusing on Erie County,” she said Tuesday. “I don’t know if he has aspirations for some higher office. I don’t. I’m running to be county executive.”
Dixon, 53, emerges as the first woman to run as a major candidate for the county’s top post. And though she represents the Republican Party in the most high profile local election of 2019, she is not registered with the party. Instead, she belongs to the Independence Party, a minor line on the ballot that she says best represents her effort to be guided by neither Republican nor Democratic power brokers.
Though voters often confuse the Independence Party with being "independent" and not aligned with any party, Dixon said the registration supplies her with a home base without allegiance to either Democrats or Republicans. The strategy has proven more than successful in the Hamburg-based legislative district in which she has easily thrived since her first election in 2009, and where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1. It also allows her to appear on three lines: Republican, Conservative and Independence.
Still, she appears to adopt the kind of campaign hinted at by county party leaders like Republican Nicholas A. Langworthy and Conservative Ralph C. Lorigo, who are expected to vigorously support her candidacy on their lines. She will emphasize that the Poloncarz brand of Democratic politics will not resonate with the kind of middle-of-the-road Democrats traditionally embraced by people like her parents.
“My dad was a working class South Buffalo guy who always lived by a set of values,” she said. “You can’t just say to a certain segment of the population of Erie County that ‘you don’t get it.’ ”
Indeed, she labels the Poloncarz reign of the last eight years "hyperpartisan." She recalls the days after the terrorist attacks of 2001 in which the country and voters everywhere were united.
"I don't see that any more," she said. "I see politics as very divisive. This hyperpolitics drives the discussion instead of the needs of the community. That troubles me."
But Dixon acknowledges she faces a daunting challenge against Poloncarz, who is expected to claim all the advantages of incumbency in a campaign significantly elongated by the state's new election calendar that set Tuesday as the first day for circulation of designating petitions. Democrats outnumber Republicans in Erie County by more than 135,000 voters – possibly her most serious obstacle. But few if any general election contests are forecast for the heavily Democratic City of Buffalo, providing a ray of hope for Dixon and her GOP allies that Republicans in the suburbs and rural areas will turn out in greater numbers and carry the day.
In addition, Dixon starts out with virtually no money. But she and Langworthy promise an all out fundraising effort that will take advantage of the long campaign season to raise the money needed for television ads, even if Poloncarz has said $1 million may be needed to wage an effective effort.
She must also counter a perception advanced by Poloncarz and his allies that he has done "good job," that county finances are in order, and that no major scandals have marred his administration. But it may be no coincidence that Dixon rolls our her campaign in the same week that former Social Services Commissioner Al Dirschberger, a Poloncarz appointee, goes on trial in Albany for the alleged rape of a fellow county employee.
"On Mark's watch county spending has increased, he has opposed decreasing the tax levy and he has been very partisan," she said, adding Poloncarz has remained largely silent on the failure of the new Tesla plant in South Buffalo to produce the number of jobs originally promised by his Democratic allies in Albany.
"I know there are more jobs in the Rath Building," she said, contrasting her claim with job losses recently announced at firms like Ingersoll Rand and New Era Cap.
"In this state we make it very difficult for business to come here and stay here," she said. "We tell them 'no' 10 times before we tell them 'yes.' "
Dixon will unveil her campaign Wednesday in a slick video that underscores her television experience, though at the moment it appears only on her website and social media. But she presents herself as a single mother with four children, noting Tuesday that her campaign will appeal to ordinary people who must raise kids, pay the mortgage and put food on the table.
"I live with their struggles," she said. "I get it."