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Some milestones in a compelling contest for county executive:

*Feb. 9 -- Possibly the most significant date of all. A gossip website exposes Republican Rep. Chris Lee soliciting dates in a shirtless pose. He resigns, casting a new spotlight on Democratic County Clerk Kathy Hochul as a candidate for his open seat instead of county executive.

*March 19 -- Hochul spurns running for county executive and opts for Congress.

*March 26 -- Republican County Executive Chris Collins announces for a second term, declaring "taxpayers have a county government that is holding the line on taxes, paying down debt and keeping spending growth at practically zero."

*May 7 -- Comptroller Mark Poloncarz declares for county executive, calling Collins a "divisive figure." The Dems wish they had Hochul, but feel good about Plan B.

*May 24 -- Hochul confounds everyone and beats Assemblywoman Jane Corwin. Collins breathes a major sigh of relief. Hochul loomed as his worst nightmare.

*June 30 -- Poloncarz unveils first in a series of position papers, calling the incumbent's plan to reduce county funding for libraries and create special taxing districts for their governance a "manufactured crisis." The issue continues as a top discussion point in the campaign.

*July 14 -- The Republican Party once again fails to field candidates in virtually all City of Buffalo elections on the last day to file designating petitions. After several years with no Republican candidates in Buffalo, it now appears as official GOP strategy to discourage turnout in the heavily Democratic city.

*July 15 -- Collins files his first campaign finance report and it underscores why he emerges as the early favorite. He has $1.6 million on hand -- much of it from his own wallet. He also enters the campaign backed by the often crucial Conservative Party, which nominated Democrat Jim Keane against him in 2007.

*July 15 -- Poloncarz's financial report shows his campaign manager is paid by SEIU Local 1199, a highly unusual arrangement prompting charges from Collins that his opponent will be beholden to unions.

*Sept. 27 -- Collins rakes in about $100,000 at a major fundraiser sponsored by former Ambassador Tony Gioia and featuring South Dakota Sen. John Thune. The event demonstrates Collins' fund-raising prowess and the power of incumbency.

*Oct. 9 -- A Siena College poll commissioned by The Buffalo News and WGRZ-TV shows Collins with 49 percent and Poloncarz with 46 percent. Poloncarz's fundraising spikes once donors see he is in the hunt.

*Oct. 13 -- Collins and Poloncarz square off at a WNED-TV and radio debate. Both candidates perform well, but many viewers and listeners are exposed to Poloncarz for the first time and see he can hold his own.

*Oct. 17 -- Erie County Board of Elections begins probing absentee ballots already marked for Collins and sent to about 10 voters in Lackawanna. Poloncarz immediately blames Collins on Facebook, but backs off when sheriff's investigators say neither campaign is involved. Still, Collins rides the issue for days, even getting national attention on Fox News.

*Oct. 31 -- After announcing that an arrest for ballot tampering was "imminent," law enforcement officials now say they cannot find criminal evidence.

*Nov. 4 -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Chuck Schumer are slated to campaign in Amherst for Poloncarz. The event is significant because the popular officials aim to rally Erie County's Democratic edge of about 135,000 votes. Collins dismisses the event as"career politicians endorsing each other."

*Nov. 8 TBD.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com