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COMMENTARY

As Schimminger exits, Zellner looms

Robert J. McCarthy

News and views on politics around here:

• Since his first election to the Assembly in 1976, Robin Schimminger served as a mainstay for Erie County Democrats. He declared his candidacy, ran his campaign, and won – always.

Now Schimminger’s retirement sets unfamiliar political dominoes in motion.

At the moment, Jeremy Zellner looms as the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nod in the Assembly’s 140th District. He is, after all, the county Democratic chairman. What he proclaims is pretty much dogma. If he wants to go to the Assembly, he will.

But Zellner also occupies Erie County’s most coveted patronage post as Democratic elections commissioner. It features a $118,000 annual paycheck. He will leave that plum should he run, he says, setting off an intramural scramble to succeed him at the Board of Elections.

Some Democratic town chairmen now work at the board and will no doubt be looking for their “reward.” Nobody will get too overwrought about “politics” playing there. To borrow from Claude Rains: “I’m shocked, shocked to find [politics] is going on in here.”

If he runs, Zellner says he will draw an approximate $70,000 salary as party chairman for the next year. Then, with a young family at home and presuming he wins in November, he faces those Sunday nights on the Thruway.

In the end, Schimminger’s retirement affects more than one man. Lots to consider here.

“All of this is laden with thorns,” said one local observer.

• Republican State Sen. Rob Ortt, a serious contender for the 27th Congressional District nod, worked his way through Washington late last week lining up friends and supporters. A key meeting involved Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Most observers say Ortt enters the Chris Collins succession scrum with solid support from his Niagara County base and some other outlying counties. Gov. Andrew Cuomo reiterated in Buffalo last week his inclination toward an April 28 special election, and Ortt prefers the local party leaders make a choice soon.

“For the sake of the party in general, whether it’s Rob Ortt or someone else,” he says, “it would be better to coalesce behind a candidate sooner rather than later.”

• Jumaane Williams, who holds the number two post in New York City government as public advocate, continues to cement his upstate relationships established while challenging Kathy Hochul in the 2018 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.

He spoke Thursday at the PUSH Buffalo event aimed at “achieving a community-led just transition from environmental racism and the extractive fossil fuel economy.”

• Democrat Diane Devlin and Republican Jerry Greenan became household names during their October TV blitz while vying for State Supreme Court. Party leaders bestowed cross-endorsements and guaranteed victory to two other judicial candidates in 2019, but Devlin and Greenan had to work at it.

Now campaign finance records indicate Devlin spent $240,044 and Greenan $318,297 on an election that Devlin narrowly won.

The pair had to raise and spend minor fortunes while the cross-endorsed enjoyed their autumn. It’s the way we elect judges in New York State.

• During his Tuesday stop in Buffalo, Cuomo waved a red flag at state Republicans who hint at legal action over his “inclination” to slate a special election on April 28.

GOP sources continue to chafe at the date, noting hordes of Democrats will trek to the polls that day to vote in the Democratic presidential primary. They cry “unfair advantage.”

The governor, meanwhile, says special elections are expensive; that it might cost the state $1 million, especially with the additional expenses of new early voting requirements.

All of this leads to Cuomo and the Quote of the Week: “If they want to pay a million dollars for a special election, then I might think twice.”

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