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Get ready for another million-dollar Erie County executive race

The last time Democrat Mark C. Poloncarz ran for Erie County executive, he spent some $775,000. His 2015 opponent, Republican Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter, spent less than half of that, but enough to bring the total for both candidates over $1 million.

Four years earlier, when Poloncarz unseated Republican incumbent Chris Collins, the two spent a combined $2.1 million – although that time it was Collins who was the big spender. Collins spent almost twice as much as Poloncarz that year.

Now with Erie County Legislator Lynne M. Dixon of Hamburg hoping to unseat Poloncarz, the money race is on again.

Expect another $1 million-plus campaign, with the incumbent again outspending the challenger.

Here's what we know so far:

Going into the race

Poloncarz had $445,000 in mid-January, roughly the same amount he had at that time four years ago.

Dixon goes into the race as the underdog with $197,000 as of mid-May. She's an Independence Party member also running with GOP backing on the Republican line. Because Dixon has a June 25 primary on the Independence line, she was required to file a campaign finance report last month.

Poloncarz was not. His next report won't be filed until mid-July.

 

 

Where the money is coming from

Poloncarz's $445,000 political fund includes $139,000 raised in the six-month period from July through January. Dixon's $197,000 in contributions cover the period from July through May, with most of the money raised after she announced her bid for the county executive's race in February.

Here's who their biggest contributors are so far:

Poloncarz's biggest backer was Amherst developer Michael Joseph, a longtime friend who contributed $20,000 through 12 companies during the six-month period. Joseph has said he does not get favored treatment in exchange for his campaign contributions.

Other major contributors to Poloncarz: $5,000 each from local development guru Howard Zemsky, Marco Altieri with All-American Home Care of Rochester, developer Gerald Buchheit of Lake View, and the Buffalo law firm of Hurwitz & Fine. The Clough Harbor Associates engineering firm contributed $4,600. Hurwitz and Fine was paid almost $350,000 for work done for Erie County in 2018 and 2019, while Clough Harbor received $1.7 million for county work during that time, according to the Erie County Comptroller's Office.

Poloncarz's contributions reflect the power of incumbency, and include donations from the county workforce as well as companies that do business with the county.

"County employees like the county executive. They like their boss and want him to stay," said Poloncarz campaign manager Jennifer L. Hibit. "People who do business with the county like the way the county is working, and want to see Mark Poloncarz remain."

No one is pressured to contribute, she said, and there's no favored treatment for businesses that donate to the campaign.

Dixon's biggest financial support came from the Erie County Republican Party apparatus. The Erie County Republican Committee contributed $25,000 to her campaign while Erie County GOP chair Nick Langworthy's political committee gave Dixon's campaign $10,000. About $10,000 more, in total, came from various other local Republican Party candidates, office holders and local GOP committees.

Dixon also received $25,000 from downtown developer Patrick Hotung of Amherst, president of the Main Place Mall complex; $20,000 from James J. Eagan, a former state Democratic official who financially supported Poloncarz in 2011; and $10,000 from Brian Lipke of Hamburg, former CEO of Gibraltar Steel.

"I like Lynne a lot and think she's got a real shot," said Hotung, a Republican who has been at odds with Poloncarz over the county executive's handling of several Main Place Mall issues.

People want change, someone who can bring more jobs to Erie County, added Dixon campaign consultant Christopher M. Grant.

Donations from the Republican Party apparatus represent nearly a quarter of the money Dixon received so far, The Buffalo News found.

Poloncarz similarly received substantial financial support  in 2011 from the Democratic Party apparatus, including $26,000 from the Erie County Democratic Committee, when he challenged Collins.

Big money vs. small

Candidates boast about the amount of small contributions they receive, an indication that they have widespread support from the everyday voter and not just politicians, businesses and interest groups.

Dixon's campaign received 594 donations from 523 individuals or organizations by mid-May, The News found. Two-thirds of the money came from 31 donors each contributing $1,000 or more, including five that gave at least $10,000 each.

But most of her donors – 80 percent – gave Dixon $200 or less, The News found.

Poloncarz received about 539 donations from 341 individuals or organizations through mid-January.

Poloncarz received donations of $1,000 or more from 26 donors, with one donating $20,000 and others donating $5,000 or less. Those contributions represented 50 percent of Poloncarz's money. As with Dixon, most of Poloncarz's donors – 70 percent – contributed $200 or less, The News found.

The Dixon campaign says Dixon's ability to raise almost $200,000 in a few months ups her political credibility to raise the money needed to compete with – and beat – Poloncarz. Especially gratifying, Dixon has said, is the money is widespread, coming from 31 of Erie County's 44 municipalities.

"She raised more money in this short of a period than any candidate who has run for county executive," said Grant, the campaign's political consultant.

Poloncarz's campaign is also happy with its fundraising, and says he will have more money in the coming July filing than he had at that point in past county races.

But the campaign isn't just a test of fundraising, Hibit said.

"We will continue to raise money so we can spend to get our message out. But money is not the only issue of the campaign," Hibit said. "We're going to talk about issues people in Erie County care about. I'm sure Lynne Dixon will do the same."

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