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Post-Election Day observations: Dixon, Poloncarz and more

Robert J. McCarthy

News, notes and observations following Election 2019:

Give Lynne Dixon credit – the unsuccessful Republican/Independence candidate for Erie County executive did pretty well. Dixon lost by seven points to Democratic incumbent Mark Poloncarz, close enough to pronounce that her candidacy was worth a shot.

That seven-point difference, however, serves a sobering message to Poloncarz as he embarks on a third term. Consider that in 2015 against then-Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter, Poloncarz cruised to victory with a plurality of 44,898 votes. He won on Tuesday by 14,489 votes.

Dixon proved a formidable opponent. She raised a decent amount of money. She discussed important issues. Things like pluralities change.

But incumbents – especially executives – know an expiration date dwells somewhere on their label. Poloncarz is savvy enough to know his label still has time; he's also savvy enough to know it someday expires.

Dennis Gorski failed to recognize that all-important factor in seeking a fourth county executive term in 1999; ditto for former Gov. Mario Cuomo and a fourth term in 1994. Poloncarz will keep it all in mind as he moves ahead.

Then there’s Byron Brown, who has tied the late Jim Griffin for the all-time Buffalo mayor record at four terms – and is hinting at a “strive for five” campaign in 2021.

When you write the Politics Column every Sunday, people talk to you about politics. The one takeaway noted from ordinary voters was disgust over negative television commercials. Whether aired by Dixon or Poloncarz, Erie County residents were turned off.

Political consultants know the public deplores many of their efforts. They will keep churning them out anyway.

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Turnout in the county was about 34%; about 23% in the City of Buffalo. With only one Council contest and nothing serious for comptroller, the GOP strategy of discouraging turnout in heavily Democratic Buffalo continues to work.

But with increasingly healthy Democratic registration advantages in places like Amherst and Tonawanda, the strategy is not effective enough to always work for the Repubs.

Flip side of all that: Republican Mark Supples defied the party plan and launched his own candidacy for the Niagara Common Council seat. He had name recognition, issues and money. He also worked hard.

Supples got creamed in a race with a third candidate – 77% to 19%. While incumbent Democrat David Rivera has always gained solid support and is respected in City Hall, the Supples effort only underscores the undeniable – a Republican cannot win in Democratic Buffalo.

Interesting factoid: For a decade, Dixon represented the County Legislature’s District 9 – with a major Democratic enrollment advantage – while registered in the Independence Party and caucusing with Republicans. On Tuesday, John Gilmour returned the seat to the Dems, who held it before Dixon.

It all stands as another way in which Dixon established her own brand during her career, and why the GOP nominated her for county executive.

Now that Dixon’s exit from the Legislature signals the end of any Independence Party presence in County Hall, will anybody care?

As voters waited – and waited – Tuesday night for election results, a Board of Elections official told The Buffalo News: “This isn’t about fast. This about right.”

Good thought. But until earlier this year, the board was always able to get it fast and get it right, too.

Tabulating election returns had barely ended early Wednesday morning when FBI agents invaded City Hall and phones began ringing at The News. Some ask why the FBI waited until after Election Day to launch a probe with potential political ramifications.

The bureau would have been blamed for acting before Election Day, too, in a classic “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situation.

Quote of the Week comes from a major Republican figure who shall remain nameless, discussing Poloncarz: “Mark is the most underrated politician in town.”

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