An Amherst trial attorney is emerging as a top candidate for one of Erie County’s most coveted patronage posts – one of three commissioners for the Erie County Water Authority.
Christopher J. O’Brien, a contributor to Democratic Party and judicial races, has applied for the post and is expected to appear at County Legislature hearings next week. He joins 10 other applicants vying for the spot now held by Jack O’Donnell, a lobbyist with long ties to Sen. Charles E. Schumer, former Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon and other top Democrats.
O’Donnell has reapplied for the part-time post, which pays $22,500 annually and is influential in awarding authority contracts and hiring employees. His connections to Pigeon, Mayor Byron W. Brown and the Erie County Conservative Party make him a serious contender for reappointment, according to several political observers.
“I look at Jack as capable, intelligent and someone who does his homework at the Water Authority,” said Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo. “And at this point, he’s not politically connected to the Democratic establishment.”
Lorigo said he eventually may support another candidate who also has expressed interest, but only if O’Donnell is unable to garner the six votes necessary for reappointment.
Several sources familiar with the situation say no candidate is yet assured of the post.
O’Brien, a member of the University at Buffalo Council, said he was approached to apply because of his legal and business background.
“When I get a bill from the Water Authority, nothing frustrates me more than thinking they need someone there to shake things up,” he said. “I think I could be that guy.”
He said he sees the top goal for an authority commissioner as keeping water rates as low as possible. He recently started his own law firm specializing in injury cases after an “amicable” parting with longtime legal partner Steve Boyd.
According to state campaign finance records, O’Brien has contributed $5,000 in the past year to either the Erie County Democratic Committee or its chairman, Jeremy J. Zellner.
The new Democratic leader said he is not officially supporting O’Brien yet but added that his reputation in the legal community and business background make him ideal for the post.
“I think Chris is great,” Zellner said. “He’s highly qualified, and he’s an outside-the-box guy.”
Other applicants for the post include:
• Joseph Weiss, a former Clarence councilman and businessman who says he is not beholden to “anyone but citizens and the fish.”
• Jeffrey D. Brzyski, of the City of Tonawanda, chief payroll supervisor for the Erie County Personnel Department who said he offers a “blend of education, work experience and life skills learned.”
• Harold Rice Jr., of Holland, a member of the Bank of Holland board of directors who cited his business experience.
• Peter C. Grollitsch, of Williamsville, an engineering and construction professional who cited his experience working with the authority.
• J. Mark Robinson, of Lake View, executive director of the Care Management Association of Western New York who also cited his business experience.
• Daniel G. Gurnett Jr., of Hamburg, project controls consultant for Praxair Inc., who said he has managed many major foreign and domestic construction projects.
• Gregory S. Jackson, of Cheektowaga, a retired corrections officer.
• Joseph A. Mascia, a former County Legislature and Assembly candidate who is a commissioner at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority and has 40 years of experience in the construction industry.
• Louis A. Izzo, of Williamsville, a real estate professional with business experience.
• Patricia E. Wolfsohn, of Buffalo, a sales and marketing veteran who said it is “time that the average hardworking person” receives the appointment.
Today is the last day for resumes to be submitted for the position, although legislators still have more than two months to make a decision.