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Editorial: Mark Poloncarz's vision

On Tuesday, Mark C. Poloncarz began his third term as Erie County Executive. Before him, only Dennis Gorski, had achieved that status, Poloncarz, then, surely understands that such longevity confers both an opportunity and a warning: Gorski lost his bid for a fourth term.

Like Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, already serving his fourth term, Poloncarz has been at his job long enough to know it inside out. Indeed, he knows it well enough that in the aftermath of his November election victory, a major Republican figure was moved to tell News political reporter Robert McCarthy that the county executive was “the most underrated politician in town.”

That’s the sound of expectations rising.

Poloncarz has done a generally strong job as Erie County’s chief executive, restraining budget growth, ensuring effective emergency response, repairing the disastrously organized Child Protective Services. He has even looked beyond his political boundaries to push for consolidation among some school districts. It all served to make him a formidable candidate, even after two terms in office.

The question now is what Poloncarz will do differently to leverage his experience for the benefit of county residents. One thing seems certain: Whatever he does will be the product of the progressive stance he outlined at Tuesday’s inauguration. That can be good or bad; the distinction will depend to a great extent on whether he holds to the fiscally conservative vision he described after taking the oath of office for a third time:

“I believe that government, when run effectively, can be a force of good,” he said. “It must lead when others will not. We have proven that a government built on the principles of compassion, inclusion, service to others, and fiscal stability can succeed.”

Fiscal stability in this overtaxed state requires parallel efforts: holding the line on residents’ tax bills while expanding the tax base. So, if he is to help the “struggling” with new investments in day care, including the rates paid to providers, he will either have to bring in more money through economic expansion or cut in other areas.

The same goes for his pledge to invest in clean energy and to push for “walkable, livable communities built to withstand the growing challenges of climate change.”

All are valuable goals, and Poloncarz seems confident of achieving them while maintaining his record of fiscal prudence. It will be important to watch. His speech not only outlines an ambitious third term, but offers a way to evaluate him should a fourth one beckon.

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