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The contest for Erie County Democratic chairman moved south to this convention city last week, and even the glitzy surroundings of a presidential election could not rescue the locals from the down and dirtiness of local politics.

Make no mistake about it. Lots of whispered conversations among New York Democrats concerned succession to Len Lenihan in Ellicott Square's second-floor corner office. And those discussions involved not only the locals, but the state's top Democrats, too.

As a Thursday Buffalo News story pointed out, much is at stake here. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top political strategists seem stymied as to how to deal with those rambunctious Dems out west, especially after their hopes that former Mayor Tony Masiello would restore order on their behalf are now dashed.

After a long and successful run in politics, Masiello now wants to be a lobbyist period.

The view from here is that he took his chairmanship candidacy as far as he did to please a powerful governor. When that got too complicated, Masielllo made his choice.

But now, after initiating the process that ousted Lenihan, the Cuomo forces acknowledge they are stymied. They successfully deposed Lenihan, but after Masiello returned to Lobby Land, they don't know quite where to turn. They no longer have a horse in this race.

"We don't know them," one Cuomo operative said last week about other candidates for the party helm.

Some hopefuls, like Legislature Chief of Staff Jeremy Zellner, remain too close to Lenihan for the Cuomo types. Others, like fund-raiser Jim Eagan and attorney Marc Panepinto, officially fall into the "we don't know them" category.

Among declared candidates, that leaves Cheektowaga Chairman Frank Max. They know Max well after he developed a close relationship with Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy during the 2010 campaign.

"Max has the most upside," is how one Cuomo insider viewed the situation, stopping far short of an endorsement.

But Mark Poloncarz was also prowling the convention halls last week, an outward sign that he wants a say in the matter. In fact, his say is expected this week.

Poloncarz now faces a tough spot. It appears he bowed to Albany by allowing Lenihan's departure, despite a long friendship with the chairman. But he also nixed Albany's choice of Masiello, emphasizing he wanted a younger leader (translation: his own guy).

He faces the reality that his own guy must be acceptable to the Cuomo forces that kicked off the whole process in the first place, along with three or four other major Democratic factions in Erie County.

And, oh yes. It would be nice if some semblance of unity resulted, too.

If Poloncarz wants to emerge as a political leader as appears the case he must somehow mollify lots of powerful people while achieving his own objectives, too.

All of this is important because the chairman of Erie County's dominant party remains a central figure in the state and region. In many cases he determines who runs and who doesn't and becomes the go-to guy in upstate Democratic politics. And as The News story on Thursday pointed out, there currently is no such guy.

As Cuomo looks to the future, it would be nice to rein in the recalcitrant western region for 2014. Nine western counties, you recall, cast ballots for Republican Carl Paladino in 2010. Electoral backing from all of New York's counties would sparkle nicely on the resume of a presidential candidate.

So in the next week, the Albany forces that initiated all this will watch intently from the sidelines. They and everyone else involved will see if Poloncarz can accomplish what they could not especially that unity thing.

Many before have tried. Now it's Poloncarz's turn at what has always proved impossible.

email:rmccarthy@buffnews.com