When Siena College pollsters surveyed the Erie County executive race a few days ago, the results spawned "political discussion" that turned vicious even by Erie County's rough-and-tumble standards.
Republican Chris Collins' campaign exploded, claiming the poll showing Democrat Mark Poloncarz in the hunt was "flawed." Poloncarz, meanwhile, was tickled pink. But nobody on either side disputed the poll showing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo as one very popular pol. Siena found 68 percent of those surveyed view Cuomo favorably, compared to 26 percent unfavorably. Even 59 percent of Erie County Republicans like what they see in the new governor, despite his 20-point loss here last November.
That's why how -- or if -- Cuomo gets involved in what appears to be a close Collins-Poloncarz race looms as a huge political question mark in this part of the world. The most popular political figure in New York State could help Poloncarz raise money and turn out the vote. And his mere presence here would uncomfortably force Collins to react to someone even Republicans like.
Most of those familiar with the situation expect Cuomo will become involved. Maybe it will resemble the hardly noticed video he posted on behalf of congressional candidate Kathy Hochul last May.
Or maybe, as some in Democrat Land have suggested, a get-out-the-vote event to rally the county's overwhelming Democratic majority. Or a money-raising effort for the underfunded Poloncarz? Should Democrats dare suggest such a thing?
Though nobody discounts the possibility of help from the popular governor, one Albany source last week said that after Poloncarz met with Cuomo lieutenants a few days ago, he "blew out of proportion" what might be expected. So far, all of this has proven foreign to Cuomo. He was never accused of breaking a sweat in his efforts for Hochul. And politics has taken a back seat to filling a $10 billion deficit and changing the way a lot of things are done in New York State.
But the poll shows Poloncarz has a chance, and Poloncarz has asked for help.
Still, this is Erie County. Last spring Cuomo dispatched Charlie King, executive director of the state Democratic Party, to Buffalo to attempt what nobody has ever achieved before -- peace in the Democratic valley. King tried, but the record of no success remains intact.
Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan also remains a problem to the Cuomo crew. King thought he had accomplished a major objective when Lenihan announced last June he would resign. Lenihan lingered through the summer, and on the afternoon after a gala retirement party at Pettibone's Grille, changed his mind.
As a result, there is reluctance among the Cuomoites to have anything to do with Erie County and a chairman they don't like. Any appearance featuring Cuomo and Poloncarz -- which would naturally feature the Erie County chairman -- would prove "incredibly awkward," according to one Albany insider.
Lenihan has always insisted his extended tenure in Headquarters will be a short one, but his record on retirement ranks him as the Brett Favre of Buffalo. Now he looms as a problem for a friend and ally like Poloncarz, who enters the final stretch with momentum.
Even Mayor Byron Brown's City Hall forces, which so far have said they will not endorse Collins but will not help Poloncarz, could change their view. Several sources say they might reconsider missing a bandwagon carrying Cuomo and a potentially victorious Poloncarz. But it's no secret they don't like Lenihan either.
It all adds up to Democratic politics Erie style. And even though Poloncarz now has numbers to make his case, the governor remains wary of that same politics Erie style.