Erie County Republicans on Saturday plan to settle on a candidate to challenge County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, the Democratic incumbent who is seeking an unprecedented fourth term.
Erie County Republican Committee Chairman Michael A. Kracker on Friday told The Buffalo News that at least three candidates – two incumbent officeholders and a newcomer – have appeared before the GOP committee in recent weeks seeking the party's endorsement.
County Clerk Michael P. Kearns and Boston Town Supervisor Jason A. Keding have appeared before the committee, Kracker said. But much of the conversation among Republicans in recent days has focused on Chrissy Casilio-Bluhm, a 36-year-old Clarence resident who owns her own marketing communications firm.
Casilio-Bluhm is the daughter of Clarence Town Supervisor Patrick Casilio, a Republican.
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"We will be having a discussion as a committee (Saturday) to mull an endorsement in the race and see if we can unify behind a candidate to take on the county executive," Kracker said.
The Erie County Democratic Committee gave its unanimous endorsement Tuesday evening to incumbent County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.
None of the three candidates responded to messages seeking comment. Kracker said Casilio-Bluhm has appeared before his committee. Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo said he spoke with Casilio-Bluhm this week.
"She called and told me that she wanted to do this," Lorigo said. "She was asked to, and she wants to do it. She seems to have all the right motivation. She certainly seems to have the right values."
Still, Lorigo said it might be "a difficult chore" for Casilio-Bluhm to raise the estimated $1 million that Lorigo and other political veterans say is needed to seriously challenge Poloncarz. He said the Conservative committee has not decided whether to endorse Casilio-Bluhm.
"It’s a lot of money and it doesn’t come that easy," Lorigo said. "So we’re going to sit down and talk."
Amherst Republican Chairman Brian D. Rusk said he is impressed with Casilio-Bluhm.
Asked whether he considered her the front-runner, Rusk said, "She may be. I think she's a breath of fresh air. When she met with our executive committee, many people said she had the 'it' factor."
Lorigo said he predicts Casilio-Bluhm will get the Republican nod over Keding when the county GOP's executive committee meets this weekend at the Orchard Park Senior Center to discuss the nomination.
For weeks, Kearns, the incumbent county clerk, appeared to be a possible candidate to gain the Republican nomination, though his refusal to change his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican miffed some rank-and-file GOP members.
Erie County Clerk Michael "Mickey" Kearns says he didn't know about the state law that prohibits the county to pay for advertising and promotional expenses that feature his image or voice.
Political watchers say Kearns' candidacy has dimmed in recent days after a WGRZ-TV investigation revealed Kearns spent nearly $100,000 in taxpayer funds to purchase advertisements for the clerk's office that he appeared in. State law prohibits elected officials from appearing in such ads.
The News in November reported that County Comptroller Kevin Hardwick, a Democrat, was questioning the propriety of the advertisements.
"This most recent thing, I think, hurts him badly," Lorigo said. "I wouldn’t have taken that approach. So I don’t think it’s him."
Poloncarz last week announced that he was running for an unprecedented fourth term in office despite previous rumors that he would take a position in Albany in Gov. Kathy Hochul's administration.
Nate McMurray, the former congressional candidate and Grand Island supervisor, has already announced his plans to challenge Poloncarz in a Democratic primary, criticizing Poloncarz's handling of the Christmas blizzard that resulted in 46 Erie County deaths.
McMurray's campaign marks the first Democratic primary challenge Poloncarz has faced since becoming county executive. In previous campaigns, he defeated Republicans Chris Collins, Raymond W. Walter and Lynne Dixon.