It’ll be three terms for Mark Poloncarz as the incumbent Erie County Executive posted a convincing victory in Tuesday’s elections. He’s only the second person in his position to achieve that longevity, and it comes with expectations. The task only becomes taller.
Poloncarz, a lawyer and former Erie County Comptroller, defeated outgoing County Legislator Lynne Dixon with 53.5 percent of the vote. It wasn’t a wipeout – four years ago, Poloncarz overwhelmed Republican Raymond Walter with 65 percent support – but it wasn’t close, either. That’s not surprising, given the Democratic incumbent’s generally strong performance and his party’s dominance in voter registrations here.
But with his reelection secured, the question for Poloncarz is, what will he do with it? He’s done well for the county, but voters should expect something more than more of the same. His first two terms can be fairly seen as on-the-job training – building blocks that must lead to stronger leadership, a more profound understanding of the issues and a commitment to making maximum leverage of the insights gained from eight years in office.
That, after all, is the point of experience. It’s one of the principal arguments against term limits: Why shove aside a competent officeholder just when his years of service have deepened his knowledge of critical issues and honed the skills he brings to the table?
That’s where Poloncarz is today. He needs now to deliver in a way that justifies the legitimate expectations of county voters who have entrusted him with another four years.
Three terms for a government executive is not unheard of, but it’s not common, either. It’s happened only once before in Erie County, when Dennis Gorski – another Democrat – was re-elected in 1995. He lost his fourth-term bid to Joel Giambra, who served two terms. His successor, Chris Collins, served one before losing to Poloncarz in 2011.
All of which is to say, Poloncarz has been accorded a privilege that few are offered. He will have many opportunities to show what he can do with it. Here are some of them:
• Improving the business climate: Many of the jabs against Poloncarz’s performance have stemmed from a belief that he doesn’t do enough to overcome New York’s reputation as unfriendly to business – a reputation that full Democratic control of state government may exacerbate.
His insistence as a board member of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to require redundant evidence of pay equality didn’t help.
Under his leadership, county property taxes have remained under control. That’s important to establishing an attractive business climate, but there is more to do.
• Creating jobs: Expanding the county tax base is the surest path to tax stability and maybe even tax reduction. Poloncarz needs to put his two terms of experience to work by attracting new businesses to Erie County. That process will have radiating benefits to the county’s economy, leading off with increased county revenue produced without reaching deeper in to the pockets of existing taxpayers.
• Buffalo schools: Poloncarz has no formal role in educating Buffalo’s students, but the fact is that the long-term fortunes of both the city and the county are tied to the willingness of young families to move into Buffalo. That won’t happen without improving the city schools. Poloncarz needs to find a way to influence the direction of a school district that, while slowly improving, continues to under-perform. Time is the enemy here.
Through his push to consolidate some school districts, the county executive has demonstrated an interest in education. That effort has shown no results to date, but he shouldn’t surrender. Indeed, he should expand his interest to include the performance of Buffalo schools.
Finally, Dixon deserves the thanks of the community for her 10 years of service on the County Legislature and for her campaign for the county executive’s office. Democracy doesn’t work without challenges by good and capable candidates. We hope she will look for ways to continue serving the public.