Rachel L. Obenauer never uttered a word about her Independence Party campaign for county executive.
The 23-year-old Williamsville resident did not return phone calls after her designating petitions for the Independence line were submitted last week by Democratic operatives. Nor did she even acknowledge her primary challenge to Lynne M. Dixon, another Independence member running on the Republican line against Democratic incumbent Mark C. Poloncarz this fall.
Adding to the question marks, Obenauer’s short-lived and unexplained candidacy abruptly ended Monday when she declined the Independence nomination, prompting Republicans aligned with Dixon to renew their complaints of Democrats gaming the system. They even noted the signature of Board of Elections employee Robb Poloncarz, the county executive’s brother, as a witness on the Obenauer petitions.
“It further demonstrates the hypocrisy the Poloncarz machine is making of this election,” Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy said Monday. “They say they hate fusion voting, but got caught red-handed putting up a minor-party candidate with the candidate’s own brother circulating petitions.”
Though it ranks as a relatively minor development in an anticipated long campaign for county executive this year, Obenauer’s withdrawal underscores the controversy surrounding New York’s unique “fusion” voting system in which minor-party members can be nominated by major parties and vice versa. In all but seven other states, candidates must be enrolled in a party to appear on its line.
It all enabled Obenauer to appear out of nowhere last week as an Independence candidate. She is an enrolled member of the party who the GOP says was trying to wreak havoc for Dixon, endorsed by the Republican and Independence parties.
Now the effort to run against Dixon in a minor-party primary, causing the candidate to spend time and energy, appears to have ended.
“The Poloncarz-Democrat machinery is playing games,” Langworthy said, noting the past criticism Poloncarz and Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner have leveled at fusion voting.
Now an Independence Committee on Vacancies has the option of naming a replacement for Obenauer after she declined, prompting Langworthy to offer more political speculation.
“I would not be terribly surprised if they put up a new, fraudulent candidate that would go against the wishes of the Independence Party supporting Lynne Dixon for county executive,” he said.
Jennifer L. Hibit, Poloncarz chief of staff, noted last week that Independence candidates are often GOP allies, and that neither she nor the county executive have ever even met Obenauer.
“This, unfortunately, is the game that is fusion voting,” she said then. “Don’t hate the player; hate the game.”
On Monday she distanced herself even further from any minor-party activity in the county executive contest.
“We’re paying attention to our own race, not Rachel Obenauer,” Hibit said.
The county executive race simplified even further Monday when Gregory M. Vinal Jr. also declined his candidacy for the post on the Green Party line.
Other significant declinations involved the County Legislature races, including Michelle J. Schoeneman on the Democratic and Working Families lines in District 10; Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski from the Democratic line in District 9; Scott J. Ackerman from the Green line in District 8; and Democrat Jerome T. Janik in District 11.