Rebecca L. Darch received the appointment to the Lackawanna City Council's 2nd Ward seat, but Annette Iafallo won the coveted endorsement from the Lackawanna Democratic Committee.
Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski also is endorsing Iafallo, while at least two other members of the City Council, which has clashed with the mayor over the city budget and other issues, have lined up in support of Darch.
Those political dynamics are expected to make for an intriguing Democratic primary election Thursday in Lackawanna.
Darch, 26, and Iafallo, 61, are vying for the seat formerly held by Szymanski, who was elected mayor last fall.
Darch was appointed to the post in May, but the appointment runs only through the end of the year. A general election in November will determine who finishes the current four-year 2nd Ward term, which runs through the end of 2013.
Because Democrats far outnumber Republicans in Lackawanna, the winner of the Democratic primary is expected to be heavily favored in the general election against Republican Diane M. Kozak.
Iafallo and Darch have focused their campaigns primarily on the same issues: eliminating blighted housing; removing 2nd Ward homes from a federal floodplain map requiring homeowners to carry flood insurance; and improving playgrounds within the 2nd Ward.
Iafallo maintains that her experience and deep roots within the 2nd Ward, where she has lived with her husband, John, since 1979, make her best-equipped to handle the concerns that she and Darch agree on.
"I didn't just move here. I've been here," said Iafallo, who has previously served on the Lackawanna City School Board and made an unsuccessful run for mayor in 2007. "I just think in this case, I have more experience for the job."
Darch, a supervisor with the nonprofit agency Heritage Centers, moved to Lackawanna about five years ago and in 2011 bought a home on Electric Avenue in the 2nd Ward with the help of a first-time homebuyer grant.
The Batavia native and 2008 Buffalo State College graduate said she would bring a fresh approach to Lackawanna government.
"I'm not in the political nonsense in Lackawanna. I really just want to try and do some good for the city," said Darch.
Darch recently married Robert C. Sireika, who won election to the Lackawanna City School Board in May, outpolling two candidates Szymanski supported.
"This is where I have chosen to raise my family," Darch said.
Darch portrayed Iafallo as beholden to Lackawanna's political machine. After serving on the School Board from 2001 to 2007, including a stint as the board's president, Iafallo was appointed in 2008 as school district clerk, a post that paid $40,812 in 2011.
"I'm told this is the mayor's election all over again and that a lot of favors are being pulled out. It's very clear that he wants [Iafallo] on there," said Darch.
Iafallo countered by saying she's "under no one's thumb. If it's best for the community, I'm going to vote for it."
Supporters of Darch also have pointed out that, if elected, Iafallo may have difficulty actually serving on the City Council because of her job as school district clerk.
A quirk in New York State Education Law that applies to school districts in cities of fewer than 125,000 people appears to suggest that a member of the City Council can't be appointed to the post of school district clerk or treasurer, unless the Council provides consent.
But the language of the law doesn't exactly apply to Iafallo's situation, because she's not asking to be appointed district clerk; she already has that post.
The stipulation doesn't preclude a small city's school district clerk from running for City Council, according to Jay Worona, a lawyer with the New York State School Boards Association.
But, said Worona, "it adds some question as to whether there's a few more hoops for the person to jump over."
Iafallo said she consulted three lawyers on the matter before deciding to make her election bid and was told "there was absolutely no conflict" with her holding the district clerk and Council posts at the same time.
The provision in state education law section 2503 was brought to her attention well after she declared for the election, she said, and when she had the lawyers examine the matter again, they explained that there was no case law established for her situation.
"It's my right to run for public office. It's my plan to take office," she said. "If the people of the 2nd Ward want me to represent them, then I think the will of the people should be the law."
Darch has a different take on what would happen if Iafallo wins the election.
"The way it's been explained to me is the Council would have to vote on it, and the council has said, to my knowledge, they would not vote her in," said Darch.