Readers of the Politics Column throughout Western New York are probably checking the date at the top of the page this Sunday morning.
Didn't so many Sunday columns in 2011 detail Chairman Len Lenihan's planned departure from Democratic Headquarters? And wasn't a cadre of local Dems lining up to succeed him?
But today's newsprint is crisp and white; not brittle and yellow. And the date, indeed, reads July 22, 2012. It's deja vu all over again as Lenihan re-retires and the succession parade revives.
After he reversed his 2011 decision to leave and remained as chairman, Lenihan pulled off a remarkable feat. He defied Gov. Andrew Cuomo and hung on for a year as leader of upstate's largest Democratic organization. With victories like Kathy Hochul for Congress and Mark Poloncarz for county executive, the juice to buck even the great and powerful Oz ran strong.
But now Lenihan appears really ready to leave. And unlike Erie County Republicans, who survive transition with groomed successors and no muss or fuss, local Democrats prefer a scramble. Now, one to succeed Lenihan is under way, with nobody yet to emerge as a front-runner.
Familiar names, like Cheektowaga Chairman Frank Max, are emerging. He maintains a strong base in a super-Democratic town and enjoys other suburban votes through influential supporters like former Chairman Steve Pigeon. Other candidates with similar concentrations of committee votes include attorney Marc Panepinto from the old Sam Hoyt organization. He is looking for a place to land after being "discouraged" from a run for State Senate.
Lackawanna Chairman Fran Warthling is telling associates he is not interested, but who knows what happens if party leaders come begging?
Then there's former Mayor Tony Masiello – talk about a base. Plus, he is known and trusted on the second floor of the Capitol as well as the second floor of City Hall. Some will question his two-time endorsement of Republican Gov. George Pataki, as well as his current fund-raising efforts for Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti. And would he consider leaving his lucrative new lobbying career?
NFTA Commissioner Jim Eagan jumped in last week. He has proven a top money man for statewide and local Democrats. Unless he somehow snares the backing of Rep. Brian Higgins' organization, many question the origin of his votes.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Zellner sparked real, live buzz when he announced his candidacy late last week. The 34-year-old chief of staff in the County Legislature was Lenihan's top assistant for years, is certainly acceptable in Headquarters, and is close to Poloncarz. For sure, the county executive has expressed the desire for a new generation of leadership.
An official stumbling block for Zellner, however, is his tag as a Lenihan guy – unacceptable to Lenihan foes Cuomo and Mayor Byron Brown.
This whole scenario results from Albany's desire to somehow unite warring factions tearing apart Erie County Democrats since before the Harding administration. The Cuomo forces sided with Brown, and now Lenihan is out.
Will Brown and others now seek to oust arch-enemy Dennis Ward, the veteran elections commissioner who just happens to hail from vote-rich Amherst?
Inside City Hall it all amounts to a big yawn anyway. The mayor's organization has always followed its own path and will probably continue no matter what; $1 million in the bank and solid poll results will do that for you.
Maybe Lenihan will change his mind and run again – the day is young. He would most likely win, and then we could write the same column again next summer.