For one brief, shining millisecond a few days ago, peace (relatively speaking) reigned over the Valley of the Democrats in Erie County. Chairman Len Lenihan rescinded his resignation and returned to the party helm (the day is young, however, and he may change his mind again). The campaigns of Tonawanda Chairman John Crangle and Cheektowaga Chairman Frank Max to succeed him ended, and old factions remained bitter enemies despite the efforts of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's operatives in the state party.
So just when some Democrats were feeling nostalgic about the old days of chaos, who should emerge from the shadows but Steve Pigeon. The former Erie County Democratic chairman issued a formal press release that blasted Lenihan and party Secretary Dennis Ward for allowing "bedlam" in their plan to select candidates for the County Legislature.
Pigeon broached an important point in the wake of U.S. District Judge William Skretny's redistricting order that arrived too late for primaries and allows party leaders to name legislative candidates. He asked: Why is the party's Executive Committee, rather than committee members from the legislative districts, choosing candidates?
"Time and time again endorsements made by party leaders in the proverbial smoke-filled back rooms are nothing more than an attempt to placate supporters and cut deals," Pigeon said. "These back-room deals are undemocratic and, more importantly, the voters recognize these corrupt bargains for what they are and the candidates lose."
Lenihan and Ward insist that party rules say the Executive Committee -- comprised of representatives from throughout the county -- chooses in such situations. In addition, they argue the Executive Committee is forced into the kingmaker role because redistricting raises thorny questions.
"Because of reapportionment, particularly in the city, we have no way of assigning weighted vote to the committee members because the election districts are all chopped up," said Ward, an election lawyer and Democratic elections commissioner. "We would have an unending fight."
Such election law minutia could have important consequences. Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams, for example, is persona non grata around Democratic Headquarters after some Dems say she was too chummy with Republican County Executive Chris Collins. As a result, her chances of receiving a certificate of nomination stand at zero. But in her own district? Maybe.
Ditto for Chris Fahey, the aide to Congressman Brian Higgins looking to succeed Democrat Mark Schroeder in the Assembly. Fahey would probably cruise to the nomination were it up to committee members in the 145th Assembly District. But countywide push-back against Higgins and his South Buffalo allies is dogging the Fahey effort.
Aside from all this, however, is the reemergence of Pigeon. While he has always lurked behind the scenes, he is now quite public about his thoughts on the party.
"I feel very strongly that the party is in total disarray," he said last week.
Does that signal an attempt to again lead the party?
"This is an important issue. I feel strongly enough about it to speak out," he said. "I'll leave it to other people to say what it means."
Lenihan, meanwhile, has his own thoughts on Pigeon's new public persona.
"Steve is someone who ran our party into the ground and is certainly not in any position to talk about running the party," he said. "Bringing Steve Pigeon back into the local party would be like inviting Jack the Ripper into the neighborhood public safety program."
Pigeon is back. The Dems are fighting. All is right with the world.
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