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Bob McCarthy: Politics afoot in Erie County and Buffalo

Robert J. McCarthy

Thanks to the wisdom of the State Legislature and its new political calendar, campaign season is already underway. Here are some early developments:

• Legislator Lynne Dixon is now a candidate for county executive, and will soon be the official standard bearer of the Republican, Conservative and Independence parties. But Dixon, a member of the Independence Party, emphasized in her announcement video that she is a registered “independent,” already parlaying the common perception that her presence on the Independence line means she is an “independent” — or a voter unaffiliated with any party.

Dixon calls herself “independent” when she is indeed registered with a line whose leaders have been known to throw in with whatever major party best suits their interests. That’s the way things work in New York’s “fusion” voting system.

The new candidate has proven a loyal member of the GOP-led caucus in County Hall, and her Independence affiliation has certainly not hurt her ability to prosper in heavily Democratic District 9.

• Political intrigue is stalking City Hall this week as some veteran Council members prepare to leave, and angling is underway to fill the vacant comptroller’s office. Fillmore Council Member David Franczyk had been considered a potential contender to succeed Mark Schroeder after the incumbent’s resignation to become state motor vehicles commissioner. But Franczyk told Deidre Williams of The Buffalo News City Hall bureau a few days ago that he declined because “the fix is in.”

Franczyk surveys the landscape and sees a deal for retiring Lovejoy Council Member Rich Fontana to forego running for comptroller, only to be hired as deputy by Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams, the endorsed Democratic candidate for the post.

“The talk is that the political deal has already been made and that political deal was: The mayor did not want to overtly support BMW, his ally ... but he didn’t want to say, ‘Council appoint her.’ So he wanted an artifice. He wanted a screen and in front of the screen was his straw man placeholder Comptroller Richie. So the Council would appoint Richie. I was told that in so many clear ways by so many people. They would appoint Richie ... They’re going to deny this from here til Tuesday. Others have heard and others agree. So it’s a political deal, and I don’t like it.”

One man’s opinion.

• America is already talking 2020 and the presidential election. So is Erie County. Nobody is committing to anything yet, but some high-profile Dems are expressing opinions. Gov. Andrew Cuomo notes he is a longtime friend of former Vice President Joe Biden, while County Executive Mark Poloncarz says he is intrigued by Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner holds out hope that Cuomo will run, but admires California Sen. Kamala Harris. And attorney Tom Kobus, who has extensive connections throughout local Democratland, plans to soon organize local supporters of former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

It all points to New York as a serious battleground among Democrats next year, as opposed to the coronation for Hillary Rodham Clinton here in 2016.

In the meantime, it appears few around here recognize that one of their own — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — is already campaigning for president.

• Quote of the Week comes from Donald Trump, whom former “fixer” Michael Cohen charged last week inflated his overall worth while preparing to bid on purchase of the Buffalo Bills in 2014.

Campaigning in New York’s GOP presidential primary in 2016, Trump told The Buffalo News he was never that serious anyway. “I bid on that team, halfheartedly because I really wanted to do this. I could not have done that and this, because it would have been too much. I bid on it, but I knew I would be doing this. I’ve got enough on my hands.”

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