It's become rather chic in recent years for incoming mayors, county executives and governors to appoint "transition teams" during the murky interim between Election Day and Inauguration Day.
We don't really know what transition teams do other than allow the victorious pols to gain some ink and air time, but they're now part of our political life.
And the panel just named by Mark Poloncarz provides major hints as to how the incoming county executive plans to govern. While outgoing County Executive Chris Collins named a slew of business types to his 2007 transition team (headed by then-Talking Phone Book executive Philip Corwin, husband of Assemblywoman-to-be Jane Corwin), Poloncarz is dipping deep into his Democratic roots with labor leaders and supporters who all represent significant interests.
Indeed, some of his appointments also deliver major political messages.
Take Bernie Tolbert, the former special agent in charge of the Buffalo office of the FBI and head of security for the National Basketball Association. Tolbert is thinking of running for mayor of Buffalo in 2013. Current Mayor Byron Brown proved largely indifferent to the Poloncarz candidacy, granting his endorsement and showing up at a pre-election rally only when Gov. Andrew Cuomo dragged him by the ear. You don't need a doctorate in political science to connect those dots.
There's more on that front. Poloncarz also named Alicia Lukasiewicz, the former Buffalo corporation counsel who left the Brown administration after acknowledging strained relations with Deputy Mayor Steve Casey -- the mayor's political point man.
Chalk that up as another shot at a mayor who only reluctantly joined the Poloncarz parade.
It seems that Poloncarz is also signaling his intention to elevate the arts and cultural institutions that caused Collins so many problems -- maybe even cost him his re-election. While polls never identified as a major issue his refusal to fund some culturals or to change the funding of libraries, those actions did contribute to his public perception.
And in obvious hindsight, that perception ended the Collins Era in Erie County.
So now Poloncarz has appointed Cindy Abbott-Letro, chairwoman of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra board of trustees. He also reached out to Lisa Ludwig, owner of Free Fall Productions and managing director of Shakespeare in the Park. Cultural organizations, it seems, will once again have a friend on the 16th floor of the Rath County Office Building.
There's even more good stuff on the Poloncarz list. Jim Eagan is there, not because he represents any major constituency but because he helped raise a lot of money for the campaign. He is also looming as an increasingly influential figure in Democratic circles.
Attorney Bob Fine represents an interesting entry to the team roster. Fine was a major supporter of Dennis Gorski, the last Democratic county executive. And Collins spearheaded a controversial replacement of Fine's Hurwitz & Fine law firm to handle legal work for the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.
Collins also gets a message with the appointment of Jennifer Parker, the former chairwoman of the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau whom he forced out in 2009.
Patty Devinney of the Western New York Area Labor Federation will also serve on the team. Poloncarz may owe his election to labor's Herculean effort in raising funds, making phone calls and getting out the vote. You can bet that nary a labor type made the Collins transition team of four years ago.
Even if transition teams don't mean much in the grand scheme of things, they provide real hints as to what lies ahead -- and fodder for political observers to chew as one era ends and another begins.