A family emergency prevented the Politics Column from appearing in its usual op-ed page corner this week in the Sunday Buffalo News.
But the Internet has proven a wonderful tool for those who might miss their normal Thursday deadline for the pre-print op-ed section. And as a result, the Sunday Politics Column makes a rare visit to the Politics Now blog:
Mark Poloncarz has made it clear in recent weeks he wants to have a say in the selection of the next Erie County Democratic chairman.
Indeed, the county executive addressed a joint meeting of town and zone chairmen last week during a meeting at Curly's Restaurant in Lackawanna, where sources say he emphasized the process should be completed sooner rather than later.
He even named four men who have declared their candidacy, granting tacit approval. They include Frank Max, chairman of Cheektowaga Democrats; Jim Eagan, a prolific Democratic fund raiser; Jeremy Zellner, chief of staff for the County Legislature , and attorney Marc Panepinto.
He also listed the qualities he would like the new party leader to possess -- including the ability to unify -- that has eluded so many Democratic chairmen over the years.
It's an interesting -- and risky -- tack for the still new county executive. He could follow a path favored by predecessors like Dennis Groski, who distanced himself from the party politics as much as possible. His philosophy was to let a chairman like Steve Pigeon serve as his lightning rod, absorbing the political pot shots that inevitably result from running county government.
But Poloncarz also recognizes the unique opportunity before him. An ambitious Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is making his mark in New York in a number of ways , and would not mind demonstrating his political prowess either. After an attempt to unify Erie County Dems orchestrated by his own political operatives failed in 2011, he is now allowing Poloncarz the chance to follow through.
The first step -- the departure of Cuomo persona non grata Len Lenihan from the chairmanship -- has already been accomplished. But now Poloncarz must find someone who is acceptable to all of Erie County's warring factions, including Lenihan's Headquarters crew, Mayor Byron Brown and Congressman Brian Higgins -- not to mention Albany Democrats.
That's why more mad more locals are watching for some new candidate to suddenly emerge. Maybe it will be former Mayor Tony Masiello, a Cuomo favorite who has not the slightest desire to even discuss the subject. Attorney Anthony Colucci III's name -- mentioned in the Politics Column several months ago -- has again surfaced. Others are sure to follow.
So far, even party outsiders such as Mayor Brown's camp are watching with curiosity. Brown has survived quite nicely over the years without help from Headquarters, relying on his own party apparatus to get the job done. But if an acceptable candidate came along, that faction might be willing to once again fund itself visiting Ellicott Square.
The point of all this is that Poloncarz -- by inserting himself into the process -- has undertaken a significant risk. He is betting his strong victory in 2011 and his early days of presiding over county government gives him enough political gravitas to pull off what no other local leader has achieved in decades.
Democrat leaders are slated to again meet on Aug. 6 to hash out the situation. While any official designation of a new chairman must legally take place after the primary election in September, a gathering of party elders such as what is slated for Aug. 6 just might result in white smoke.
That's exactly what happened the last time the party engaged in this exercise when top honchos gathered in the upper room at Cole's on Elmwood Avenue.
If any Democrat types make a move in the next few days to reserve the room at Cole's, we'll know exactly what is under way.
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If Republican congressional candidate Chris Collins has remained on the quiet side over the past few days, it doesn't mean he has not been pounding the pecuniary pavement. Sources close to his campaign report he raked in $100,000 at a local event hosted by long time Collins financial supporter Paul Harter.
Another soiree put together by national Republicans in Washington netted an additional $100,000, giving the former county executive a significant start in the fund raising that will prove crucial in his upcoming faceoff with Democratic incumbent Kathy Hochul for the 27th District.
--Robert J. McCarthy