They just don't listen.
That must be what Gov. Andrew Cuomo is thinking these days after Erie County Democrats defied him once again last weekend. They elected Jeremy Zellner as new party chairman, and rejected Frank Max – the candidate of top Democrats close to the governor.
Make no mistake about it. For some reason many observers have yet to figure out, Erie County politics proved a top priority for Cuomo's inner circle. For more than a year they have tried to impose some semblance of order on that rambunctious bunch.
So far the Cuomo group has achieved about as much success as all the other governors before him. Zilch.
A bit of recent history underlies the frustration on the Capitol's second floor. Back in 2010, the nine western counties first proved troublesome by rejecting Cuomo – who creamed Republican Carl Paladino in virtually every other area of the state.
But Western New York? Nooooo.
His political operatives then concentrated on driving out then-Chairman Len Lenihan, whom they never considered part of the team. Lenihan in 2011 first said he would go, then said “T'heck with ya'” and stayed.
“Nice” parts of the state don't react that way to Andrew Cuomo.
Then the Cuomo pols suggested former Mayor Tony Masiello as the next Democratic chairman. His role as a lobbyist proved a major complication, and Erie County Dems ignored Albany again.
“How 'bout Cheektowaga Chairman Frank Max?” the Cuomo crew then asked. His supporters included Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy, with whom Max had developed a close relationship.
But last Saturday, Erie County Dems strayed from the Cuomo line once again. They convincingly voted for Zellner – the one-time right-hand man of official nemesis Lenihan. Ouch.
Cuomo recognized Western New York's unique dynamic in a January conversation with the editorial board of The Buffalo News. You could tell it weighs on his mind.
“I think the regional attraction of a candidate in Western New York should not be underestimated at all,” he said of the Paladino factor. “Western New York feels it has not yet attracted the attention it deserves. It does not surprise me at all.”
So Cuomo has trained lots of attention here. He promised a $1 billion economic development program for the Buffalo area while state agencies like the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. prepare to develop the outer harbor.
But where the Cuomo team gets bogged down – where it just can't gain traction – is healing the rifts and factionalism in the Democratic Party. The goal: no weak spots anywhere in New York State for a governor some say is preparing for the national stage.
The consequences, however, include slogging around in the mud of local politics. Albany found itself dealing with things like the next elections commissioner, or how the situation would affect Mayor Byron Brown, or dealing with complaints about lack of local patronage.
In addition, the Cuomo team rallied around a candidate some observers called a “tough sell.” Max sports a long history in the party. And history means something in fractious Erie County.
“It's mind-boggling to them that they can't get consensus here,” said one observer. “Unlike Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton or anywhere else where the Democratic Party is a united front. They're troubled that's not the case here.”
So the governor's politicos came in, muddied up the waters and left with achieving little. Lenihan is gone, but not without winning a string of recent victories and grinning over his shoulder as he leaves Democratic Headquarters.
Beyond that, a fractious and divided party – with Len Jr. at the helm – remains.
The intent was noble. The goal may prove impossible.
Cuomo's frustration with WNY
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