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Council candidates claim 'sexist politics' spurs petition challenges

Five women candidates looking to break the all-male hold on the Common Council charged Tuesday that challenges to their designating petitions stem from “the Erie County political machine” practicing “sexist politics at its worst.”

The five Council candidates – Bernice Radle, Kathryn Franco, Antoinette Craig, Tina Sanders and Melanie McMahan – have been running as a slate as they gathered signatures and submitted petitions over the past few weeks. But their petitions are undergoing scrutiny at the Board of Elections after committee members in the various Council districts cited flaws and filed objections.

While challenges to petitions remain a standard part of the ballot qualification process, the female candidates say more is involved.

“A series of frivolous and unwarranted petition challenges have been filed against our campaigns in what will amount to a failed attempt to knock us off the June primary ballot,” the five women said. “This is an effort to block five women from running for Common Council so that their five male opponents may sail smoothly to victory, unchallenged and unchecked.”

Diana Cihak, founder and board president of a group called WomenElect that seeks more female office-holders, said Tuesday her group has worked hard this election season to recruit and train female candidates – especially for the all-male Council. They were then assisted by the Baker Project, an offshoot of the Democratic-linked Eleanor’s Legacy – for consulting and circulating petitions.

She said Democrats choosing candidates in the five Council districts would not consider female candidates.

“The fact of the matter is that the Democratic Party, which only has the ability to elect people to the Common Council, endorsed only male candidates,” she said, including two open seats.

While most Democratic leaders emphasize their support for women candidates, Cihak questioned that commitment on a local level.

“We would like to think that but there is not much evidence of that in Buffalo,” she said.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner, who is also Democratic elections commissioner, said he will match his record for promoting female candidates against anyone. But he also said it appeared some of the petitions submitted by the women were “not valid on their face” because they did not follow the law.

Now he said a process including public hearings and possible court action must yet play out, but hinted the group is aligned with factions that continue to oppose party headquarters.

“These candidates go out and work hard and pay consultants for bad advice, and that’s a shame,” Zellner said.

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