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Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner said Thursday he will recommend that the party endorse Mayor Byron W. Brown for a third term.

Zellner ended speculation about the party’s plans just as Bernard A. Tolbert, former special agent in charge of the FBI office in Buffalo, said he will formally declare Saturday that he will challenge Brown in a Democratic primary.

“I’m going to recommend to our executive committee that we endorse Mayor Brown,” the chairman said. “I was elected to lead and bring this party together.

“I’m not interested in continuing this battle,” he added, referring to internal warfare plaguing local Democrats in recent years. “If we work with him, I believe he will work with us.”

Brown feuded for years with then-Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan. But Zellner and his camp both indicated that the mayor reached out to the party hierarchy this year and asked for the endorsement.

Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey, Brown’s political point man, said the mayor was enthusiastic about seeking the party nod. “It’s a good start,” Casey said. “No doubt about it.” No “deals” were made in exchange for Zellner’s support, Casey said, but he expects the Brown team to work with headquarters in this election year. “We made it clear to him that if we are the endorsed candidate, we will carry petitions for the whole endorsed slate,” he said.

Zellner emphasized that a process must still be followed before Brown can be endorsed. He said Brown and Tolbert have both been invited to participate in an interview session May 18 in anticipation of an endorsement vote May 25. He said he did not believe it would be a waste of time for Tolbert to attend the interview session.

“This will be an executive committee decision,” Zellner said. “By no means is it a slam dunk, and it will take a couple of weeks to nail this down.”

Party sources say that not everyone will be happy with the Zellner recommendation but that the chairman’s decision usually is a strong indication of the party’s intention. Zellner said he arrived at his decision after speaking with party leaders in the last few weeks.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com