Days ago, a candidate for Erie County sheriff publicly listed the law enforcement personnel who support her candidacy.
That’s when the Erie County district attorney saw red.
Some of the people work for his office as criminal investigators.
“No one in my office is allowed to endorse anyone,” John J. Flynn later told reporters. “We do not get involved in politics in this office.”
Despite his ban on political endorsements, three of his employees were among the people Karen Healy-Case said want her to be the next sheriff of upstate New York’s largest county.
“It is an honor to have the endorsement of these incredible law enforcement officers who share my commitment to keeping Erie County citizens safe,” Healy-Case said in a news release naming 50 current and former law enforcement officers in her corner.
The list included Lou Roberto, Mark Stambach and Pam Harris, some of Flynn’s criminal investigators. Like Healy-Case, they were once with the Buffalo Police Department.
On Thursday, Flynn learned about the list minutes before he spoke at a news conference called to announce that a grand jury did not indict the two Buffalo police officers charged in the world-famous shove of a protester last summer in Niagara Square.
Before the end of the news conference, he addressed the endorsements.
“The sheriff's race is going to be a major source of contention,” he said, mentioning no candidate by name. “I’m nipping it in the bud right now, OK? Keep my people off your list. Keep my people's names out of your campaigns, or you're going to have a problem with me.”
When The News caught up with him Saturday, Flynn said he talked to his three employees to repeat his policy, and the three expressed surprise that Healy-Case named them in her news release.
Healy-Case is a Republican who, as of last week, had seized the endorsement of the small but important Conservative Party. On Saturday, the county Republican Party followed the Conservatives’ lead and endorsed her as well.
Flynn, a Democrat, said he’s not drawing the line now out of concern for his own party. He said he, too, has accepted the Republican and Conservative endorsements in his own campaigns.
He has taken similar stands before, he explained. When he first ran for district attorney in 2016, he prohibited any office employee from contributing to his campaign fund. District attorneys of the past would often lean on their employees, who can be fired at any time, for cash.
He does not bar employees from donating to political campaigns, but he wants no employee to publicly endorse a candidate, unless they are running for the office themselves. That came into play in 2020. One of his prosecutors, Matthew Szalkowski, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the State Assembly.
The Healy-Case campaign did not post the list of police-officer endorsements on its Facebook page or its campaign website. In a statement about Flynn’s comments, a campaign spokesman sidestepped the question of whether Healy-Case still counts Flynn’s investigators among the law enforcement personnel endorsing her. “We are proud of every law enforcement endorsement,” he said.
A crowded field has emerged to replace Timothy B. Howard, the Republican sheriff since 2005 who has said he will not run again. Howard over the years has faced lawsuits from the U.S. Department of Justice, which sought to bring more humane conditions to the county Holding Center and the Correctional Facility, and the Commission of Correction, which once labeled the jails he oversees as among the state’s worst run.