Erie County Democrats are heading toward election season in disarray once again after an anti-headquarters faction of town chairmen complained to state party leaders that Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner failed to convene endorsement meetings for County Legislature candidates.
The result, they say, is a free-for-all of primary contests from challengers recognizing the opening created by the absence of endorsed candidates.
“It is our belief that Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner, who is also employed by the Erie County Legislature as the Democratic majority chief of staff, has refused to call endorsement meetings throughout all legislative districts because he is afraid the elected Democratic Committee members may vote to endorse a candidate that is not his personal or his bosses’ choice,” the dissidents said. “Even worse, Jeremy Zellner is printing and passing out petition packets containing only his hand-picked candidates for the Erie County Legislature at the expense of the Erie County Democratic Committee, without there ever being an endorsement meeting.”
The letter was signed by several town chairmen, including Daniel S. McParlane of West Seneca, Frank C. Max Jr. of Cheektowaga (leader of the party’s anti-Zellner faction), Mary Alice Grant of Aurora, Richard Rose of Marilla and Mary I. Julian of Wales, and Lancaster Vice Chairman Robert Giza.
The chairmen cited party bylaws requiring the county chairman to convene committee members of the various legislative districts for endorsements and are asking the party’s state leaders to “intervene and require that Chairman Zellner convene the appropriate subordinate committees.”
Max said he has “no doubt” any endorsement meeting convened in several districts would have resulted in backing for anti-Zellner candidates.
Rodney S. Capel, executive director of the state committee, did not return a call Monday seeking comment.
Zellner said he had not received requests for endorsements from several candidates until designating petitions were already in circulation, and he opted for “open primaries.” He said such a process has been employed in the past while petitions are being signed.
“Given the timing of this whole thing, it is not convenient for anybody,” he said, adding he expects to field Democratic candidates in all 11 districts.
McParlane, however, said divisive primaries will now take place all over the county because challengers recognize the absence of candidates with the advantage of backing by party leaders. He labeled the situation a “sham.”
“Just because you can’t control an endorsement meeting doesn’t mean the committee members don’t have the right to choose who would best represent the area,” he said.
But Zellner said the whole effort is orchestrated by Max to foment more disunity in the party.
“We’re busy trying to put a party together, and Frank and company want to continue divisive politics here,” he said. “I’m not interested in it.”