A longtime dissident in local Democratic politics is mounting a primary challenge to Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.
Peter Reese, an attorney and election law specialist, admits his effort looms as a long shot in a party dominated by Poloncarz. But he said Tuesday he has formed a campaign committee and is circulating designating petitions “because we can do better and we deserve better.”
“I see a government filled with patronage, and with its only concern the gain and preservation of power,” Reese said. “This is not my Democratic Party. I’m a traditional Democrat in the mode of FDR, and what we have now is a travesty.”
Reese, 74, has been called a “gadfly” by some Democrats over the years. But he has also proven an influential figure with a say in party affairs. The North Buffalo resident now says he is disgusted with current party leadership that he says is controlled by Poloncarz – the “Twitterer in chief.”
“They are indignant that I dare challenge him,” he said. “Whoever does that can expect to be the subject of ridicule and cheap shots – and I couldn’t be happier.”
Reese is making his first try for elective office, though he unsuccessfully applied in recent weeks for chairman of the Erie County Water Authority. He has also declared for party chairman in the past and actively challenged former Chairman Joseph F. Crangle in 1982.
“I think Joe Crangle was a big sweetheart compared to what I see in the current Democratic Party,” he said. “He didn’t try to crush you and drive you into the ground. The hatred and vitriol is unparalleled.”
Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner questioned whether Reese will succeed in gaining the 1,500 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot and does not appear concerned.
“Peter Reese represents the very worst of what Democrats were in this county,” Zellner said Tuesday. “We’ve worked very hard to change the way this party does business, and we’re never going back to the old days.”
Reese acknowledged he is working with David B. Pfaff, a longtime associate of former Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon who recently plead guilty to an election law misdemeanor in connection with Pigeon efforts. But he also said he has engaged many friends and associates who are circulating his petitions, and that his expertise in election law will help him qualify for the ballot.
A supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont during the 2016 election, Reese acknowledges his challenge in making the ballot. But he said he is working hard, knows how to do it, and is serious.
“I’ve spent 51 years getting people on the ballot and making sure elections play their part in our democracy,” he said. “If that’s being a gadfly, then I’m a gadfly.”