Former Water Authority commissioner to lead Erie County GOP

Former Water Authority commissioner to lead Erie County GOP

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Karl Simmeth

Karl Simmeth. (Provided photo)

Karl J. Simmeth, the Town of Boston Republican leader and former Erie County Water Authority commissioner, is expected to be named new Erie County GOP chairman at a Saturday Executive Committee meeting in Williamsville.

Nicholas A. Langworthy, the outgoing county leader elected state chairman in July, said Thursday his successor will assume the county reins immediately after the morning election at the Wyndham Garden hotel. Langworthy will officially resign his county post on Saturday to concentrate on new statewide duties, he said, while veteran Vice Chairman Carmen Vacco also will retire.

Former Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter, the party’s unsuccessful candidate for county executive in 2015, will take over as vice chairman. Erin Baker, Langworthy’s wife and former chief of staff to Walter in the Assembly, becomes the party's finance chairwoman.

Langworthy acknowledged that Simmeth, who is 63 and retired, is not a household name in local Republican circles. But he noted that Simmeth serves in the important post of state committeeman, and insisted the new chairman brings a wealth of experience and local familiarity to immediately take over and succeed.

Simmeth is expected to draw a salary from the county committee, but Langworthy said that figure has yet to be determined.

“He’s done an effective job over the years and is very well respected by the other town leaders,” he said. “I feel the team taking over brings to the table strong skills, many successes, and its own set of contacts.

“He has the time and energy to help keep the organization together,” Langworthy added.

A Boston native, Simmeth served in the Air Force monitoring Russian intelligence for the National Security Agency. After receiving an associate’s degree in business administration from Erie Community College, he later worked in maintenance for Erie County Medical Center for 33 years before retiring in 2018.

Simmeth was a community liaison for Republican Assemblyman David J. DiPietro of East Aurora and previously served as a Boston councilman. In April 2017, he was appointed by the Erie County Legislature to the Water Authority board at $22,500 a year.

While he was expected to serve a three-year term as a Water Authority commissioner, Simmeth resigned after only a year, saying he was ready to retire. He described his decision in May 2018, which took other commissioners by surprise, as a necessary step toward collecting his public pension.

However, 2018 was also the year the Democrats took control of the County Legislature. Simmeth was the sole remaining Republican on the three-member board and was aware of a scathing draft report by the state Authorities Budget Office, heavily criticizing the authority board for its poor governance and lack of transparency.

After the Democrats took over, Simmeth was supportive of efforts to make the authority more transparent. But he resigned shortly before the state report was finalized and publicly released. The report recommended that all three board members who served during the review period, including Simmeth, be removed from their positions.

Langworthy, meanwhile, leaves the local helm after a decade of considerable success in an overwhelmingly Democratic county. He acknowledged that past transitions of GOP chairmen in Erie County usually involved a chosen successor without the extensive search needed this time.

“I did not find anyone aspiring to be county chair and prepared to take over in such a short period of time,” Langworthy said. “We took our time with this. There was no public campaign.

“Ultimately,” he added, “it came together very quickly.”

Langworthy has continued as local chairman on an interim basis since early July, when he succeeded Edward F. Cox as state leader. But state party bylaws prohibit anyone from heading both a local and state organization, prompting Langworthy to request a 60-day transition period for his Erie County party to recruit a successor.

But all sources familiar with the local situation indicate the search process was difficult. A host of top GOP names in Erie County turned down the opportunity, even though local Republicans continue to score success despite their registration disadvantage of about 135,000 voters.

At one point party leaders were considering Baker, Langworthy’s wife. But several sources said she decided to decline the party post and would continue as a fundraiser for various Republican candidates. And while several attorneys were also mentioned, many backed off because of state prohibitions against them or their firms receiving court referrals while serving as a party leader.

Jesse Prieto, the Erie County party’s executive director, is expected to continue directing day-to-day operations from headquarters at 715 Main St. Langworthy plans to maintain dual offices at the same location and in Albany.

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