The good fortune that swung to Erie County's Democrats on Tuesday could lubricate the party's machinery by protecting the patronage and filling the bank accounts as the party heads toward 2020.
"It's not a bad thing tonight to be a Democrat in Erie County," said the Rev. Darius Pridgen, who will continue to lead an all-Democratic Buffalo Common Council.
Mark C. Poloncarz became the first county executive to win a third term since Dennis T. Gorski did it in 1995. And Poloncarz emerged with his Democratic majority intact in the County Legislature. With Legislature control, Democrats maintain their grip on one of the biggest prizes, the Erie County Water Authority.
Democrats held the supervisor's office in some major towns, too. Joseph Emminger was re-elected supervisor in Tonawanda, Diane Benczkowski in Cheektowaga and Ronald Ruffino Sr. held a very slim lead for Lancaster supervisor. Democrats retook control of the Town Board in Hamburg.
Each victory provides opportunities to keep party foot soldiers employed in jobs within those government bureaucracies, where they will be called upon to provide services and campaign money as the major parties go into 2020, a presidential election year when all state legislative positions will be up for grabs as well as two congressional districts that reach into Erie County.
The congressional seat held by Brian Higgins is seen as a reliable Democratic asset. But the 27th District – unrepresented since former Rep. Chris Collins pleaded guilty to insider trading charges weeks ago – could again inspire a hot contest between the two major parties, especially for a special election that could occur in April.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a veteran politician who lives in Buffalo, called the 2019 races critical and said Tuesday's strong showing “sets the table” for Democratic victories next year. She specifically pointed to other victories: In Kentucky, a Democrat appeared to win the governor's race, and in Virginia the Legislature went to Democrats.
Hochul saw them as bellwether states that might suggest future Democratic successes in the presidential election.
“Oh how sweet it is,” Hochul said. “What an extraordinary night it is for Democrats all across America.”
Erie County Republicans did not go home empty-handed. The party took the supervisor's office in West Seneca – for the first time in 50 years – as Gary A. Dickson took the town's top office. And Republican John C. Whitney won a three-way race for supervisor on Grand Island. Nate McMurray did not run again there so he could run for Congress in the 27th District.
The Republicans have other assets. The party holds three countywide offices – clerk, sheriff and comptroller – and Republican patronage can be found throughout the layers of government. While Democrats control the Water Authority, Republicans have the Western Regional Off-Track Betting organization. Further, the county's former Republican chairman is now the state Republican chairman, a promotion helped along by President Trump.
But as the night unfolded, the Democrats seemed to have more to cheer about. It wasn't just the county executive's race, where Poloncarz declared victory over Lynne Dixon. The party won two of the County Legislature's swing districts: Jeanne Vinal won the Amherst-focused district that longtime Legislator Thomas A. Loughran vacated and John Gilmour took the Hamburg-area district Dixon vacated to run for county executive. John Bruso, the Democrats' majority leader, lost to Republican Frank Todaro in a Lancaster-area district.
Proving his vote-getting ability, Kevin Hardwick won re-election as a Democrat, his first since defecting from the Republican bloc.
With Democrats holding on to seven seats on the Erie County Legislature, Poloncarz will not have a veto-proof majority. But the party will have the political power to open new legislative initiatives and extract campaign contributions from special interests.
In heavily Democratic Buffalo, some Common Council races were unusual because incumbents faced Republican or minor party challengers. But at the end of the night, the Council remained all Democratic. And acting City Comptroller Barbara Miller-Williams easily won a full term over a Republican opponent.
Story topics: Elections 2019